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6 ways Congress’ $2 trillion aid package will help Coloradans weather coronavirus

From one-time payments to student-loan help and the ability to take money out of retirement accounts without penalties, here’s how the measure will affect you

The Fox Theater in Montrose is closed as life in Colorado shuts down in response to the new coronavirus. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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With Congress’ passage Friday of a $2 trillion aid package to help Americans weather the impacts of the new coronavirus, Coloradans will soon see a host of benefits geared toward getting them through the coming weeks and months.

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The 880-page stimulus bill, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump, includes at least $2.2 billion for the state and for local governments, as well as funds to directly help people in Colorado. Thousands are already out of work in the state and, with new restrictions on people’s movement going into effect on Thursday, the economic damage is likely to worsen dramatically.

The aid package will send one-time assistance checks in the mail to many Coloradans, while others will be able to secure larger weekly unemployment checks. There is also help in the measure for people with student-loan debt and mortgages, as well as provisions to help small businesses keep their doors open and employees on the payroll.

“This bill is far from perfect,” U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat from Lafayette, said on the House floor Friday. “But let us be clear about one thing: The American people need relief now.” 

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, hopes the legislation will help Coloradans reduce the economic anxiety related to public health orders keeping people away from work to slow the spread of the virus.

“If you are a business owner or you’re an employee and you don’t know how you are going to get through next week, how you’re going to pay rent, this helps provide that assurance that help is on the way,” he told The Colorado Sun in an interview.

Here’s a look at six big ways the legislative package will directly help Coloradans and how you can cash in on those benefits soon:


1. Many Coloradans will get a check from the government

Many Coloradans will receive a sizable, one-time check in the mail (or have money deposited directly into their bank account) from the federal government in the coming weeks. There’s not an exact date set yet, but the hope is for the money to land before the end of April.  

Individuals who make up to $99,000 in adjusted gross income (the amount you make minus specific tax deductions) will receive up to $1,200 in a direct cash payment. The amount will be lower for unmarried people who make more than $75,000 in adjusted gross income but don’t hit the $99,000 cap. 

Any head of a household who makes up to $112,500 in adjusted gross income will be eligible for a full $1,200 payment. Married couples who make $150,000 or less combined will get $2,400 and an additional $500 for each child under 17.

“If you had a family of four with an adjusted gross income of $140,000, they’d receive $3,400. That is a huge help,” Gardner said.

MORE: Colorado medical workers are getting free childcare. Should grocery store and food processing employees get the same benefit?

Married couples who make more than $150,000 but have no children will receive less money. If they make more than $198,000 they will receive no money. For married couples with children, the cap to receive funds is $218,000.

(The Washington Post created a calculator so you can figure out how much you will receive.)

If you’re trying to figure out how much your adjusted gross income is, check line 8b on your 1040 federal tax return from 2019. The stimulus money is not taxable and your eligibility is determined by your 2019 tax year adjusted gross income. 

MORE: Read the bill.

Checks will be mailed to people unless they get their tax refunds through direct deposit, in which case those eligible will receive the money directly in their bank accounts. If you are claimed as a dependent on someone’s tax return — i.e. you’re a college student whose expenses are paid for at least in half by your parents — you won’t be eligible. 

“I actually think we are going to look back and think we should have sent people larger checks,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, adding that the money is especially crucial to people who don’t normally qualify for unemployment benefits.

Some critics have said the one-time payments aren’t enough and that more should be done. “This pandemic will cost millions of lives and plunge our nation into an even deeper recession unless we take bold action now. That requires far more than a $1,200 check,” said Andrew Romanoff, a 2020 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. 

Bennet held a telephone town hall on Friday in which a woman said the $1,200 payment wouldn’t even be enough to cover her mortgage.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment office in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on March 21, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

2. If you lost your job, your unemployment payments will be higher

Colorado’s unemployment benefits program allows people to be paid up to $618 but no less than $25 per week ” based roughly on the wages they earned in the prior 18 months.

The stimulus bill gives Colorado and every other U.S. state enough money to pay people whose unemployment claims are accepted an additional $600 per week for four months. That’s on top of the state benefits. This is also in addition to the stimulus checks. 

The idea is that since people may be unlikely to find work during the pandemic, the money will hold them over until the virus is more under control. 

The bill also will provide money for an extra 13 weeks of unemployment payments on top of what someone would normally get from the state.

CHART: We’re tracking Colorado’s coronavirus unemployment surge

3. If you’re a self-employed or gig economy worker, you’re now covered

Colorado’s unemployment system doesn’t provide help to people who are self-employed or work in the gig economy — i.e. Uber and Lyft drivers — because they don’t pay into the state’s unemployment system. Bennet said those people are being “hammered” by the crisis.

The stimulus bill will create a new federal initiative — the temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — specifically to aid those people. The amount they will be given will depend on a formula from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

The Uber app displayed on a phone on October 1, 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Gig and self-employed workers will also be eligible for the extra $600 per week payments for the same four months the payments are being given to people who file for unemployment through state-level programs. Again, that’s on top of what they get from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

The details of this program haven’t been ironed out yet and it will be up to the Trump administration to create a template for states to roll it out. It’s not clear when it will be up and running. And Gardner admits that will be a tall order.

“They have a heavy, heavy burden to get these programs established, put up and running,” he said.

MORE: This is how much Colorado’s mountain communities stand to lose without skiing, restaurants, bars and lodging

4. You can take money out of your retirement accounts without penalty

The aid package has changed rules around retirement plans to give people more flexibility to manage those funds and also to pull money out if they need to because of the pandemic. 

For retirees, they don’t have to take a minimum required distribution out of their 401(k) accounts in the 2020 calendar year. This will allow them to wait for stocks that may have dropped dramatically in value to rise again in the coming months. 

“We actually heard from a lot of Coloradans on this,” Gardner said. 

Moxi Theater owner Ely Corliss sits on the stage of the downtown Greeley nightclub moments after he learned Gov. Polis had shut down all in-person drinking and dining and gatherings of more than 10 people for a month to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus in Colorado. (Valerie Vampola, Special to The Colorado Sun)

One Fort Collins man had much of his retirement stock in a Colorado company he used to work for. The stock has lost half its value since January, he told Gardner. 

People who need emergency funds can also take out up to $100,000 from their IRA (individual retirement account) or 401(k) without the 10% penalty that’s normally applied. The money can be withdrawn only for needs related to the outbreak.

Congress has also expanded the ability for people to take a loan out of their retirement accounts. Normally they are limited to taking out only half, but under the relief bill they can take a loan of up to $100,000, no matter how much is in the account.

New charitable deductions are also opened up by the policy for those who want to help their communities during the outbreak. 

MORE: Here’s where the jobs are in Colorado as unemployment surges during coronavirus’ economic meltdown

5. If you can’t make your student-loan or mortgage payments, that’s OK

For anyone with a student loan through the federal government, their payments are suspended until Sept. 30. That’s in addition to a waiver on interest for the next six months.

The bill also allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax free toward their workers’ student loans in 2020. 

The University of Colorado Boulder campus. (File photo)

People with mortgages backed or owned by the federal government — think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — have up to two months to delay making payments with the option of adding on four additional, 30-day deferrals if needed. 

There is also provision preventing any landlord who has a federally backed or owned mortgage from evicting their tenants for non-payment of rent for 120 days. They also may not add penalties or late fees to tenants’ bills. 

Colorado health officials on March 15, 2019, advised people who live in four mountain counties, including Gunnison County, to stay away from other people because of high rates of infection by the new coronavirus,. A sign over Colorado 135 at the county line, affirmed the advisory, but said the county will reopen to tourism on April 8, 2020. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

6. If you’re a small business owner, there’s help on the way

So many Coloradans have lost their jobs because their employers have been shut down because of the virus. Unable to generate revenue, those businesses are unable to pay their employees.

The stimulus bill aims to stem the hemorrhaging jobs by offering at least $350 billion in Small Business Administration loans to help employers cover things like payroll, rent, debt and mortgage payments. The loans are forgivable as long as a company doesn’t cut their staff and as long as they keep paying their staff at least 75% of what their salaries were. 

Gardner is hopeful that businesses will be able to rehire workers they laid off and potentially keep their doors open through the crisis. That will be critical for when the situation is under control because the economy will need to rebound quickly. 

“To these restaurants that had to go through so much, had to let people go, because of COVID-19, this is a huge, huge help to them,” Gardner said.  

Eligible businesses, generally speaking, include those with 500 or fewer employees. The loans can be up to $10 million.

“As we first work to combat the public health emergency at hand, it’s important to keep families, businesses and the economy operating as normally as possible,” U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, said in a statement.

The stimulus legislation also covers six months of loan payments for businesses that already have micro loans from the SBA. 

But, that’s not all …

Colorado government entities will directly get $2.23 billion from the bill, according to estimates from Federal Funds Information for States. The state’s tribal governments will receive their own allocation.

  • State share: $1.2 billion
  • Local share: $1 billion
A worker at a coronavirus drive-up testing site in Montrose. (Handout)

Other components of the federal bill will funnel money to Colorado’s colleges, school districts, health departments, transit systems and more, adding to the state’s total. 

And there is a lot of money there for things like remote learning, the National Guard, food-assistance programs and hospitals.

Also in the bill are provisions that push back the deadline for people to update their identification cards to comply with “Real ID” standards until 2021. Menstrual products are also now eligible for reimbursement from health savings accounts.

Staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.

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