We usually look forward to the holiday season as a time spent with family and filled with joy. However, with COVID-19 cases exploding and more than 2,600 Coloradans lost to the virus so far, the holidays will be difficult this year.
Too many people have lost loved ones, and many of our neighbors are struggling to put food on the table, pay rent and afford basic needs.
These needs are expected to reach extraordinary levels as federal support has either already expired, or will soon, at a time when tightening health restrictions will negatively affect the economy.
State and local leaders do deserve praise for all they’re doing to address these challenges. In addition to the special session that started Nov. 30, Gov. Jared Polis ensured that eligible Coloradans received the brief extended unemployment benefit this summer. His executive action will also provide a small one-time payment to unemployed low-income workers.
Unfortunately, the state can’t do much more without additional federal aid.
Charity and generosity, which usually flourish during the holiday season and do much to ameliorate the poverty experienced by our fellow Coloradans, won’t come close to being enough to match the outsized need this year. Without additional help from Washington, more Coloradans will be at risk of losing their homes or going hungry as we enter the cold winter months.
Nearly half of all Colorado families with kids are worried about having enough money for food and demand for assistance from food banks is soaring. According to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, a quarter of all renters are at risk of eviction. And as public health measures force businesses to cut back or close, hundreds of thousands could face unemployment or drastically reduced incomes.
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That’s why federal leaders must act now to give those Coloradans most affected by the pandemic the relief they need.
Congress can increase support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, making sure families with children, older Coloradans, people with disabilities, and so many across our state have enough to eat. They can increase and extend federal emergency rental assistance to complement other enhanced tenant protections, keeping people in their homes.
And they can extend expanded unemployment benefits, keeping families from going hungry or falling further behind on bills.
Coloradans already know how effective federal action has been. Relief approved by Congress last spring reduced unemployment and ensured people had enough money to spend at local businesses on top of covering their housing costs.
Relief even helped push state tax revenues higher than analysts predicted. Communities across the state were spared dire economic consequences and significant local business losses were avoided.
The need for congressional action touches every aspect of our lives. As schools work to adapt to online learning, as colleges and universities pivot to emptying campuses, as public health officials work hard to provide care and counseling to those dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic, state and local governments still need help meeting the needs of all our communities.
This year more than ever, the holidays are a time to remember Coloradans in need. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner must fight for a strong relief package now, before the end of the year. Federal aid now will give us the best chance to get through the holidays and weather this pandemic in the new year.
Trinidad Rodriguez of Denver is the chair of the Board of Directors of the Colorado Fiscal Institute.