President Joe Biden is expected to sign into law a wide-ranging, $1.9 trillion coronavirus economic aid bill next week after it clears Congress.
Colorado and Coloradans would be dramatically affected by the measure, called the American Rescue Plan, which does everything from sending $1,400 direct payments to many people to expanding the child tax credit.
Extra unemployment would be extended for the tens of thousands of Coloradans who are still receiving jobless aid under the bill, and the health insurance safety net is temporarily expanded. Billions of dollars would be funneled to the state — and counties and cities, as well.
It’s hard to tally exactly how much money Colorado would receive, but it’s easily in excess of $14 billion.
The relief bill has the support of all six Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation, but was rejected by the three Republican members. Every GOP member of the U.S. Senate also voted against the bill. “We should complete a full audit on where all COVID funds that have been allocated so far have gone before we give out another $1.9 trillion under the guise of COVID relief,” U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Garfield County, said.
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, said the legislation did leave some things to be desired, but he thinks it will provide optimism for Americans and help the country power through to the end of the pandemic.
“I hope that this relief package is going to satisfy the needs of the country,” he said. “Of course it’s not perfect. Nothing ever is.”
The Colorado Sun combed through the bill to break out the specific ways in which our state would benefit. Here’s what we found:
$1,400 direct payments The American Rescue Plan would send $1,400 checks directly to people making less than $75,000 a year and married couples making under $150,000 a year. People with dependents would also receive $1,400 per dependent.
Individuals making up to $80,000 annually would receive a smaller direct payment. The same is true for married couples making between $150,000 and $160,000.
If you are an individual making more than $80,000 a year or a married couple making more than $160,000, you will not receive a payment. The amount is based on a person’s most recent tax return.
The aim is to ensure people receive up to $2,000 in direct payments (assuming they don’t also have dependents) by building off the $600 per person payment approved by Congress in December.
Hickenlooper’s office says 82% of Coloradans are expected to receive checks, or 4.7 million people, for a total of more than $6 billion.
CBS News says the checks would be sent out within days of Biden signing the bill into law. You can check on your payment at this site.
Extra unemployment aid now runs through Sept. 6Federal unemployment aid is set to end this weekend, which means more than 200,000 Coloradans could lose their weekly benefits. But the American Rescue Plan would reinstate it for another 25 weeks through Sept. 6.
But it takes time for state labor departments to extend benefits as part of a new federal relief plan, which means recipients will see a temporary stop in payments.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said it must wait for new federal guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor in order to program the state’s unemployment system to properly distribute the new aid. That could take weeks.
“If the House passes the American Rescue Plan (this week), please know we are working hard with our vendor to avoid a gap in benefits,” said Jessica Hudgins Smith, spokesperson for the division of unemployment insurance. “We cannot, however, make any guarantee at this very moment.”
After the Continued Assistance Act passed on Dec. 27, a day after CARES Act benefits ended, it took the state more than five weeks to start paying out some of the new federal benefits.
In addition, the measure would help out-of-work Americans who face tax bills on unemployment benefits received last year by making the first $10,200 in jobless aid they receive tax-free for those earning less than $150,000.
More than $2 billion for education, child care in ColoradoThe American Rescue Plan would send more than $2 billion to Colorado to help child care centers, aid K-12 schools and replenish higher education institutions’ coffers.
Here’s the breakdown:
$466 million to Colorado child care centers, aimed at helping providers keep their doors open and reduce costs for families$11.1 million for Head Start, a federal program that promotes the school readiness of infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children from low-income families$1.2 billion for K-12 schools in Colorado, including to help them safely reopen for in-person learning $496 million for higher education institutions in Colorado, at least half of which must be distributed to students in the form of emergency grants to prevent hunger, homelessness and other hardships caused by COVID-19$4 billion for state government, $2 billion for Colorado counties and municipalitiesColorado’s state coffers, as well as county and city budgets, would also benefit from the aid package.
Hickenlooper’s office says about $4 billion billion would go toward the state government, while roughly $2 billion would be distributed to local governments. There aren’t many strings attached to how the dollars are spent.
“There are some limitations,” Hickenlooper said, “but I would say it’s broadly permissive.”
Here’s the breakdown in payments for some Colorado cities and counties, per U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse’s office:
$287 million for Denver$113 million for Jefferson County$77 million for Colorado Springs$2 million for Alamosa$1.5 million for Aspen$1 million for BrushThe numbers above are estimates from the state’s congressional delegation and could vary.
(State lawmakers are also set to work with Gov. Jared Polis on a state-level aid package.)
Expanding the child tax credit The American Rescue Plan would establish a year-long guaranteed income stream for families through an expansion of the Child Tax Credit.
This has long been a goal of Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who with other Democrats hopes to make the change permanent. “More than 10 million children are going to be lifted out of poverty, over half of African American children who are living in poverty would be lifted out of poverty,” Bennet said on MSNBC.
The way the change works is a bit complicated, but essentially families could receive up to $3,600 for children ages 5 and under and up to $3,000 for all other children up to age 17. Though it’s a tax credit, the money is slated to be sent out before people traditionally receive returns and people can get paid even if they have no tax bill.
To be eligible for the full benefit, a married couple would have to have an adjusted gross income of $150,000 or less. A head of household with an adjusted gross income of up to $112,500 and single filers who make up to $75,000 would be fully eligible.
The credit diminishes for people making more money, ending for married couples who have an adjusted gross income of $400,000 and single people who make $200,000.
The New York Times reports that “more than 93% of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.” Studies show childhood poverty would be slashed by the proposal, though critics say it expands the welfare state.
Coloradans who lose their workplace health insurance would have a bigger safety netThe rescue plan significantly expands the health care safety net for Coloradans who lose workplace health insurance in 2021 through big boosts to subsidies on the Connect for Health Colorado insurance exchange and federal COBRA benefits.
For example, the American Rescue Plan says anyone who receives any unemployment benefits in 2021 can get a “silver” or mid-level insurance plan on the exchange while paying zero premium. Families cut off from premium subsidies when their income reaches 400% of the poverty level would now be eligible for support, and no exchange buyer would have to pay more than 8.5% of their family income on premiums. Individuals who make less than 150% of the federal poverty level would pay no premium on the exchange.
COBRA, meant as a stopgap for people leaving employer insurance but long maligned for its high cost, would also be expanded. Former employees can extend their workplace coverage through Sept. 30 without paying the premium, rather than the former plan that had them paying 100% or more.
The legislation would also set aside billions of dollars for vaccine distribution efforts, as well as money to scale up COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and disease surveillance.
“Obviously the most important thing is that we have enough vaccine and that we have the resources so that we can vaccinate everyone who is willing to be vaccinated,” Hickenlooper said.
Renters would get help, tooThe federal relief bill also set aside $26 billion to help people with rent and utilities. That would include $5 billion for emergency vouchers for those at risk of homelessness or domestic abuse. Funding would also target certain communities, with $100 million going toward rural housing and $750 million set aside for Native American housing.
Money would also be available for people struggling to pay their mortgages.
Colorado housing programs have received more than $300 million in state and federal funds since December to help residents pay their rents and mortgage bills. The state programs received a record number of applications in January totaling $55 million, an amount larger than the money distributed in all of 2020.
Small businesses and nonprofits would get more aid The Paycheck Protection Program would receive another $284 billion to support small businesses through loans, which can be forgiven if the money is primarily used to pay employees. More than 7.6 million small businesses have been approved for a total of $687.3 billion in loans since the pandemic began.
The new relief plan also set aside $25 billion for some of the hardest-hit small businesses — restaurants and bars with 20 or fewer locations. Of that, $5 billion is reserved for the smallest establishments that generated less than $500,000 in 2019 revenue.
Additional small business relief would provide another $15 billion in grants through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Last year, grants of up to $10,000 were made available as well as loans, but many small businesses did not get one or receive a full grant.
Hickenlooper says he would have liked to see more aid directed toward events companies affected by the pandemic, namely caterers.
Millions for Colorado food banks, federal assistance programs
The American Rescue Plan would send $3.6 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase food donations to food banks while also supporting farmers.
Colorado Sun staff writer Michael Booth contributed to this report.