Blink and you miss it– here is what happened at the three-day Special Legislative Session this week
Governor Jared Polis called Colorado’s lawmakers back to the state’s Capitol on Nov. 30 at 10 a.m. for a special legislative session to provide relief to Colorado families from the consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor outlined several priorities in his executive order including funding for child care, food insecurity and support for small businesses.
The Colorado Children’s campaign worked on several of these priorities with partners to prioritize kids and families in the relief package. Here are the main takeaways form the short but effective special legislative session:
Child Care Support
This pandemic has demonstrated that the adage “everyone relies on someone who relies on child care” is more true than ever. Both our emergency response and economic recovery hinge on child care. When our essential workforce lacks access to child care, staffing shortages in health care, food service, agriculture, and emergency response are likely. But our child care providers have worked diligently to remain open, safely, throughout the pandemic so that parents can work and children can benefit from stimulating early care and learning environments.
Similarly, Colorado’s economic recovery will hinge on ensuring people can get back to work. Access to child care is a necessary work support and disruptions in care arrangements or inability to find child care disproportionately harms workforce participation among women and people of color.
Unfortunately, the higher costs of operation, the reduced revenue due to payment policies tied to child attendance, and low levels of public investment have pushed the child care industry to the brink. Many providers are struggling to keep their doors open and, sadly, many have closed their doors permanently.
Due to leadership from Governor Polis and a bipartisan group of legislators led by Reps. Kipp, Landgraf, and McCluskie and Senators Pettersen, Sonnenberg, and Priola, child care was a major focus of the special session. In the end, the legislature allocated $45 million toward two grant programs – one targeted to sustaining the capacity of the child care providers we have today and another targeted to rebuilding some of our lost licensed capacity via expansion grants. With unanimous support in the state Senate and a small handful of “no” votes in the House, it is becoming increasingly clear that policymakers are increasingly understanding just how valuable our early care and education and school-age child care providers are to both children’s healthy development and parents’ economic prosperity.
Read the bill fact sheet here and Bill Jaeger’s, our Vice President of Early Childhood and Policy Initiatives, testimony here as well as coverage of progress in support of child care that includes insights from Bill in the Colorado Sun here.
Housing and Direct Rental Assistance
Everyone benefits when all Coloradans have a place to call home, especially during a global pandemic. However, the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are making a safe and stable home unattainable for many Coloradans. Even before the pandemic, Colorado was facing a housing crisis. Now, nearly 450,000 Coloradans are at risk of eviction by the end of 2020. Many children are participating in remote learning at home and facing a myriad of disruptions in their daily routine. Their well-being depends more than ever on keeping families housed.
According to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are an estimated 505,724 working renters in Colorado needing emergency rental assistance due to the pandemic between October 2020 and June 2021. The total amount of rental assistance needed for these renters during that time period is estimated to exceed $458 million. SB20B-002 provides $54 million in emergency housing assistance as well as $5 million in emergency cash assistance for families who are ineligible for other types of assistance.
Legal representation for low-income tenants at risk for eviction is critical, but access is severely lacking. The Colorado General Assembly created the Eviction Legal Defense Fund (ELDF) in 2019. Current ELDF funding is not sufficient to meet the need for legal assistance for tenants across Colorado, and the state funding provided for the ELDF during the 2020 legislative session has already been fully distributed. SB20B-002 also provides $1 million for the ELDF to help ensure that more tenants facing the greatest barriers to housing stability have access to legal representation in the face of an eviction and are able to stay in their homes.
SB20B-002: Housing and Direct COVID Emergency Assistance (Gonzales/Holbert & Exum/Tipper) passed with bipartisan support and now heads to the governor’s desk for signature. Read the fact sheet for the bill here.
Increasing Broadband Access
In the spring of 2020, a needs assessment conducted by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) found that an estimated 65,860 children lacked stable internet access at home. Another study from CSU found that five percent of students did not have access to home wi-fi, with the overwhelming majority of those students being Hispanic or Latino.
While many students across Colorado are learning in-person, the most recent wave of COVID-19 cases has led many school districts, including the majority of large front range districts, to switch to remote learning for the remainder of the semester. For online learning to be effective, access to high-speed internet access is a necessity. HB20B-1001 creates the Connecting Colorado Students Grant program in the Colorado Department of Education to distribute funding to local education providers to increase access to broadband service and other technology for students, educators, and other staff. The bill sets a timeline to ensure the funds are distributed within 60 days, and creates a requirement for the office of information technology and broadband service providers to develop and make publicly available a list of free or low-cost broadband services and other internet access resources.
HB20B-1001: Grants to Improve Internet Access In P-12 Education (Young/Soper & Donovan/Coram) passed with bipartisan support and heads to the governor’s desk for signature.
Colorado is facing the highest food insecurity rate it has seen in decades. A survey from Hunger Free Colorado found that more than 29 percent of Coloradans are currently food insecure – more than three times the pre-COVID rate. Even prior to the pandemic, food insecurity was a problem for far too many Colorado kids. About 1 in 7 Colorado high school students reported in 2019 that they went hungry in the past 30 days sometimes, most of the time or always due to a lack of food at home. Too many families are struggling to meet their most basic needs, including having nutritious food to eat.
The Colorado Food Pantry Assistance Grant (FPAG) program has provided support to emergency food providers around the state for the past three years and has served more than 200,000 Coloradans, and with increased funding it can help hundreds of thousands more. Funding for the Food Pantry Assistance Grant is essential to address hunger during the pandemic. HB20B-1003 provides $5 million for the FPAG program. The bill increases the amount of funding grantees can spend on operating expenses and administrative needs from 10 percent to 50 percent, and it removes the $35,000 cap award. It also extends the deadline for grants to be awarded and funds to be administered from December 31, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
HB20B-1003: Food Pantry Assistance Grant Program (Cutter/Bockenfield & Story/Hisey) The House voted to concur with Senate amendments and the bill repassed on a vote of 59-5. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for signature.