DENVER — Sen. Cory Gardner and a bipartisan slate of Colorado congressional members are asking their leadership to make sure money sent to Colorado from the Federal CARES Act flows to all communities regardless of size to support the economic devastation caused by the response to the coronavirus.
“While the Coronavirus Relief Fund is well-intentioned, Congress should not be picking winners and losers in our nationwide recovery,” a letter from Gardner and his colleagues says. “Our nation is facing difficult times, and the American people are hurting. Congress must ensure that we are not leaving any counties behind, especially those with fewer than 500,000 residents, as we work to get the country back on its feet.”
The letter was signed by Gardner, Sen. Michael Bennet, Rep. Doug Lamborn, Rep. Jason Crow, Rep. Scott Tipton, and Rep. Joe Neguse. Rep. Ken Buck from Weld County led the charge after commissioners in his district learned they would not receive any of the $2.23 billion sent to Colorado under the CARES Act.
“My pay grade is not high enough to figure out why the governor thinks he can hijack it and keep it to fill his budget,” said Weld County Commissioner Chairman Mike Freeman.
Weld commissioners had a conference call with Gardner earlier this week to ask for help after Gov. Jared Polis announced he would send $560 million, divided among Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Jefferson and El Paso counties. The announcement, that Freeman said was made to Colorado Counties Incorporated, leaves the other 59 counties out.
Polis’ distribution decisions come as a result of the Act itself that defined only counties with populations of more than 500,000 as qualified for the funding. Polis plans to use the remaining $1.7 billion to backfill the state’s budget, which is expected to be cut by uptake a hit of up to 10 percent because of the loss of revenue.
“Things have changed a lot since we received the first revenue forecast on March 16,” said State Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Douglas County, a member of the Joint Budget Committee. “Because of changes in state revenues, we’ll be looking at various places that we can make cuts. The budget will likely not look the way we expected it to. We are cutting back our expectations and original forecast that we received.”
In the letter sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Colorado delegation urges the leaders to ensure that all communities get the assistance that is needed, saying it was an arbitrary definition that left out hundreds of counties nationwide that were all impacted by the virus.
“Our nation is facing difficult times, and the American people are hurting,” the letter reads. “Congress must ensure that we are not leaving any counties behind, especially those with fewer than 500,000 residents. … We urge you to reevaluate the statutory definition of a local government under the CARES Act in future coronavirus relief legislation.”
Freeman said he doesn’t have estimated numbers around how much the virus is costing the county either directly or indirectly, but Weld County (population 325,000) has one of the highest number of cases and deaths because of severe outbreaks in skilled nursing facilities and the JBS meat processing facility.
“We are keeping extremely close records so that we are eligible for those reimbursements,” Freeman said. “It is not a quick process. We are seven years out from the floods of 2013, and we are still waiting on some reimbursements from FEMA. Not sure what is going to qualify and what isn’t, but we are making sure we are processing everything in the correct way.”
A coalition of representatives from several counties and other municipalities has requested from JBC about $450 million to be distributed to the smaller counties, but ultimately that decision rests with the full legislature.
Ransom said that may be the problem, with Democrats in full control of the House and the Senate, Polis will likely get his wish.
House District 48 Rep. Steve Humphrey agreed, however, he added that he will fight as best he can to make sure other counties, especially his home county of Weld are made whole.
“Whatever the governor decides he wants to do, it all has to be approved in the legislature whenever we reconvene,” Humphrey said. “Now the Democrats have a trifecta of Senate, House, Executive, so he can pretty much get what he thinks he can afford politically, if he wants to be re-elected. We will fight hard for the money to go to actual relief and not to budget back-fill.”