Bills will boost small businesses, protect workers from retaliation and prevent outrageous price gouging on essential goods

DENVER, CO – House and Senate Democrats today announced a package of legislation to help Coloradans recover from the pandemic and safely get back to work. Several of the bills channel federal CARES Act funding directly to vulnerable Coloradans and small businesses.

“We are working to pass legislation that directly supports families and small businesses, helps Coloradans get back to work safely and protects the health and safety of our communities,” said Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder. “Coloradans are looking to us for leadership and how we will help them rebuild their lives. These bills provide direct support to help hardworking Coloradans afford to stay in their homes, pay their bills and make ends meet.”

“We are working hard to get this economy up and running, send small businesses the help they need, and put the hardworking people of Colorado back to work,” said President Leroy Garica, D-Pueblo. “This pandemic has hurt so many across our state, so it is critical that we come together and put party politics aside to pass legislation that prioritizes vulnerable communities and the economic wellbeing of all Coloradans.”

“Helping our state safely recover from this pandemic is a top priority,” said House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “Today, we introduced legislation to help small businesses get back on their feet, protect workers who report safety violations, improve access to behavioral health care, and put an end to outrageous price gouging on essential goods.”

“Coloradans need real solutions that prioritize their immediate health and economic wellbeing,” said Senate Majority Leader Fenberg, D-Boulder. “These bills work to provide direct relief to Coloradans who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and help our state recover responsibly. From stronger unemployment insurance to health care access and paid sick leave, we are forging policies that will ease financial burdens and protect people’s health.”

Legislation to Help Coloradans Get Back to Work and Protect Public Health

·        Coronavirus Relief Funds for Small Business Grants: This bill will be introduced in the Senate and will direct $20 million dollars to the Energize Colorado Fund that OEDIT has created to provide assistance to small businesses in Colorado who have suffered hardship as a result of COVID19. This fund will be providing grants to businesses with less than 25 employees, with a preference given to those that did not qualify for, or access, SBA PPP loans. Preference will also be given to businesses owned by veterans, women, and minorities.

·        Small Business Recovery Loans (Reps. Shannon Bird and Lisa Cutter, Sens. Rachel Zenzinger and Kerry Donovan): Colorado’s small businesses are critical to our state economy and too many are struggling to pay their employees or their bills during this public health emergency. This bill establishes a small business recovery loan fund that consists of $250 million of state and private dollars for first loss capital on loans to small businesses over the next two fiscal years. This establishment of this fund will help stimulate loans to Colorado small businesses and support the state’s economic recovery and resiliency.

·        Coronavirus Relief Funds for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment (Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Tracy Kraft-Tharp, Sens. Brittany Pettersen and Rhonda Fields):The need for behavioral health services are compounded by the challenges associated with COVID-19 and the more than half a million individuals who have filed for unemployment in Colorado. Young people have been especially impacted–teachers are reporting an increased need for mental health support for students struggling with schooling at home. The bill allocates $15 million to critical mental health programs and substance abuse treatment within the Colorado Department of Human Services and Department of Public Health and Environment.

·        Whistleblower Protection for Public Health Emergencies (Reps. Leslie Herod and Tom Sullivan, Senator Pettersen): The vast majority of businesses are being responsible to keep people safe during this pandemic, but there are workers who have been fired simply because they raised concerns about safety procedures in their workplace. This policy protects workers who raise health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic from retaliation and requires employers to allow their workers to wear personal protective equipment, such as masks. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is charged with managing complaints.

·        Ensuring Paid Sick Leave (SB20-205: Sens. Fenberg and Bridges, Reps. Becker and Caraveo): Currently, 40% of Colorado’s workforce are not afforded the opportunity to earn paid sick days–– creating a “work while sick” culture in Colorado that increases the deadly transmission of viruses such as COVID-19. This bill will allow those who are feeling ill to protect their coworkers, customers, and loved ones by staying home, without the fear of losing their income.

·        Reimbursement For Telehealth Services (SB20-212: Sens. Faith Winter and Jack Tate, Reps. Susan Lontine and Matt Soper): This legislation protects patients’ ability to receive care via telehealth that was granted during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Telehealth has kept consumers and providers safe while allowing patients to continue their care plan with their providers. This access could be removed when the declared emergency ends unless the state legislature acts.  

·        Coronavirus Relief Funds for 2-1-1 (HB20-1197: Reps. Marc Snyder and Janice Rich, Sen. Jeff Bridges)2-1-1, Colorado’s free information hotline, is a critical service for many Coloradans and during the COVID-19 pandemic the line has seen a sharp increase in calls. The Governor issued an executive order directing the 2-1-1 service to provide necessary human services referrals related to the pandemic, including information on COVID test sites, emergency assistance, housing support, and information related to worker protections and health care discrimination. The bill is being amended to allocate $500,000 to continue these expanded services through December.

·        Coronavirus Relief Funds for Domestic Violence Program (Budget amendment sponsored by Rep. Monica Duran) As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado domestic violence programs have reported as much as a 50% increase in requests for services. House Democrats passed a budget amendment to provide $500,000 in additional funding for the Department of Human Services Domestic Violence Program to support the increased number of domestic violence victims seeking services as a result of spending more time at home with their abusers while following public health orders and recommendations.

Legislation to Help Hardworking Coloradans Make Ends Meet

·        Coronavirus Relief Funds for Housing Cash Assistance (Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Tony Exum, Sens. Julie Gonzales and Rachel Zenzinger): Housing security for both renters and homeowners during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential to preserving the health and economic security of Colorado families. The bill provides $20 million in direct rental and mortgage assistance to Coloradans experiencing a financial need during these turbulent times, including $350,000 for legal aid for renters at risk of eviction.

·        Coronavirus Relief Funds for Utilities (Reps. Chris Kennedy and Lisa Cutter, Sens. Tammy Story and Rachel Zenzinger): While most utilities have implemented a moratorium on utility disconnections, the moratoriums do not address the difficulty that a household facing economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will have paying its utility bill once a utility’s disconnection moratorium is lifted. The bill allocates $10 million to the Energy Outreach Colorado Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund, which helps low-income Coloradans who are at risk of having their service shut off.

·        Protections Against Price Gouging (Reps. Mike Weissman and Brianna Titone, Senators Brittany Pettersen and Mike Foote): Unfortunately, during times of emergency unscrupulous individuals sometimes try to take advantage of scarcity to raise prices on necessary goods to exorbitant levels. This bill establishes that a person engages in an unfair or unconscionable act or practice if they increase the cost of certain necessary goods or services an excessive amount, and empowers the Attorney General or local District Attorneys to enforce these consumer protections.

·        Coronavirus Relief Funds for Food Pantry Assistance (Reps. Daneya Esgar and Lisa Cutter): Demand for food assistance is rising at an extraordinary rate, just as the nation’s food banks are being struck by shortages of food to meet the demand. The bill creates a food pantry assistance grant program and allocates $500,000 to support Colorado’s most vulnerable across the state and to create new market opportunities for Colorado agricultural products.

·        Expand Access to Unemployment Insurance (SB20-207; Sens. Hansen, Winter): During times of unprecedented unemployment, this bill works to expand those who qualify for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and increase the benefits workers can receive. Some of these increased benefits include the amount a worker can earn while remaining eligible for UI, as well as an expanded definition of “good cause” for a worker to quit and still receive the benefit.  From a lack of childcare resulting in school closures to employers not protecting the health of their workers, Coloradans need additional protections if they are laid off or forced to leave their jobs.  

·        Strengthening Debt Protections (SB20-211; Sens. Winter, Gonzales):During a disaster emergency such as COVID-19 where so many people are experiencing economic hardship, this bill expands the ability of the Attorney General to provide oversight of extraordinary debt collection actions, like garnishment. The Attorney General also has the ability to freeze new extraordinary debt collection actions, establish a minimum grace period for payments to resume, and require that monthly payment amounts consider a consumer’s ability to repay.

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