DENVER, CO — House committees today advanced three bills that would allocate federal stimulus dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act toward affordable housing, workforce development and behavioral health.
“The need for affordable housing has skyrocketed in Colorado; across our state, hardworking families are struggling to find a place to live or afford their rent or mortgage,” said Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver. “That’s why the legislature is going to immediately deploy $100 million in federal funds to help finance the construction of 7,000 affordable housing units across the state. This summer, we’ll work alongside experts, lawmakers, community advocates, and state departments to develop recommendations for how we can most effectively allocate the remaining $450 million in federal funds to make housing more affordable in Colorado.”
“Housing is a human right, but it’s way too hard in Colorado for middle and lower-income families to find an affordable place to live,” said Rep. Steven Woodrow, D-Denver. “Housing costs are rising faster than wages and salaries can keep up as more people move into our great state. We heard these concerns loud and clear during our statewide listening tour, and we are going to advance transformational changes to make housing more affordable for Coloradans.”
HB21-1329, which passed the House Transportation and Local Government Committee by a vote of 6-4, is sponsored by Representatives Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Steven Woodrow and channels $550 million in federal stimulus funds toward affordable housing efforts. It immediately invests $100 million of that funding to build 7,000 housing units that will help Coloradans who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic obtain affordable housing. The bill requires a broad and diverse stakeholder process during the interim that will develop and make recommendations to the General Assembly for how to allocate the remaining $450 million. The funds will be used on programs or services that address housing insecurity, a lack of affordable housing or homelessness, including construction of new affordable housing units, housing and rental assistance programs and supportive housing programs.
HB21-1330, which passed the House Public and Behavioral Health Committee by a vote of 8-4, is sponsored by Representative Julie McCluskie and Naquetta Ricks and uses federal funds to provide a $50 million boost to the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative. The funding will increase access to robust pathways for workers to obtain news skills, earn higher wages and be prepared for the in-demand careers of the future. The bill seeks to rebuild and revitalize the state’s workforce by supporting students to complete their postsecondary credentials. The funding boost will be used to reverse the significant decline in enrollment in public higher education institutions, high rates of job loss and continuing unemployment, and the overall disruption to the workforce caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also provides $1.5 million in grant funding to school districts to increase the number of students who complete Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) student aid applications before graduating high school.
“The pandemic has disrupted the careers of hardworking people across our state,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. “This bill will provide direct support to students and workers seeking to complete higher education or skills training programs. It will increase access to critical education programs that help workers obtain new skills and earn higher wages. By boosting our workforce and easing the path for Coloradans to complete their degrees and certificate programs, we will help workers fill good jobs and bounce back stronger from the pandemic.”
“I see it every day in my community–hardworking Coloradans struggling to build a better life who don’t have the resources to complete the degree or certificate program that could set them up for a successful career,” said Rep. Naquetta Ricks, D-Aurora. “Businesses need skilled workers, and workers and students need affordable pathways to obtain critical skills. That’s exactly what the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative already does. With this $50 million investment in our workforce, we are going to create tremendous opportunities for Coloradans to build successful careers.”
Funding allocated under HB21-1330 will provide direct and indirect support to students to incentivize them to complete degree and credential programs, assist in navigating career options and address equity gaps in higher education and the workforce. A portion of the funds will be used for scholarships and financial assistance. Under the bill, higher education institutions will develop student assistance plans that describe how they will spend their allocation to assist students in enrolling, persisting and completing the program.
SB21-137, sponsored by Representatives Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Chis Kennedy, was amended to deploy over $100 million in federal stimulus funds immediately for emergency behavioral health services. The pandemic and its accompanying economic recession has taken a toll on the mental health of Coloradans, with mental health challenges and substance use disorders taking a particularly high toll on people of color and people who live and work in frontier and rural communities. In 2020, fatal drug overdoses increased by 59 percent in Colorado. The bill passed the Public and Behavioral Health Committee by a vote of 10-3.
Among its many provisions, the bill provides: recovery-oriented services to individuals with a SUD or co-occurring substance use and mental health disorder, support for training programs for providers in rural and metro areas to develop competencies in mental health and substance abuse and grants to nonprofits to provide vouchers to individuals living in rural and frontier communities in need of behavioral health-care services. The amendments also create a Behavioral and Mental Health Cash Fund and a robust interim process to allocate federal stimulus funds for behavioral health. The Colorado Comeback Roadmap to Building Back Stronger envisions spending over half a billion on behavioral health services.
“This session, we’ve passed legislation to require insurance coverage for annual mental health wellness exams, provide three free mental health sessions for Colorado youth, and create a behavioral health administration, and we’re not done yet,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City. “Colorado will build back stronger if we can connect people with the behavioral health care they need. We are going to use a significant portion of Colorado’s federal relief funds to address urgent needs and bolster our state’s behavioral and mental health capacity.”
“The pandemic has had a number of devastating impacts on Coloradans’ mental health, and one distressing pattern we’re seeing is that substance use deaths are rising,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood. “This bill will help Colorado build back stronger by doing everything possible to reverse the impact the pandemic has had on behavioral health. It creates a process to invest over half a billion dollars to ensure critical resources fund the treatment and care that Coloradans need.”