As Spread Of Coronavirus Hits Colorado’s Economy, Lawmakers Try To Ease The Impact

March 16, 2020
Coronavirus Copper Mountain ClosedCoronavirus Copper Mountain ClosedHart Van Denburg/CPR News
At Copper Mountain's Center Village the morning of March 15, 2020, as Gov. Jared Polis's mandated ski area closure takes effect, the lifts are closed and just a few people mill around.

With public life grinding to a standstill, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is introducing a package of proposals to help struggling workers who may be harmed by efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Gardner’s American Workforce Act would create a new form of unemployment insurance — called the COVID-19 furlough. It would mean people can apply for unemployment, even while they’re still on their company’s payroll.

“This is for somebody who has been furloughed, somebody who’s self-quarantined. They would be classified as a new type of unemployment insurance eligible and they would be able to get that compensation through that without having to have been actually laid off,” Gardner said. The idea is to provide economic relief by ensuring people have cash in hand to pay the mortgage or buy groceries and eliminate some of the uncertainty.

More businesses in Colorado, and nationally, are laying off employees or asking their employees to stay home without pay because of the virus. The Colorado Department of Labor announced Monday that it will make unemployment insurance available to workers whose hours are cut, or who are temporarily laid off, because of the coronavirus response.

Gardner said he’s heard from a lot of Colorado businesses about the economic challenges they are facing. He said they think this type of approach will have an immediate effect rather than waiting until workers are officially unemployed “It’s simpler. It's cleaner, and it would be less of a burden on an already struggling business.”

The legislation also tries to deal with some of the liquidity issues businesses and families face. It would set up low-cost micro loans through the Small Business Association and includes a tax rebate.

Read more: Why are stock markets falling and governments declaring emergencies?

The Senate canceled its scheduled recess this week to take up an economic aid package passed by the House in bipartisan vote, after President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the measure. 

Gardner is optimistic his ideas can be wrapped into the House package. If not, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate is working on another relief package that could be ready to go once his chamber passed the House bill.

Gardner is not the only senator returning to the Capitol with ideas to help families in the unprecedented time. Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet has co-sponsored a bill aimed at ensuring workers who are quarantined because of coronavirus or caring for a quarantined family member won’t lose their job because of it.

Colorado is an “employment at will" state, which means an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason, with the exception of anti-discrimination or anti-retaliation laws.  Bennet said the legislation will provide peace of mind as people grapple with the impacts from the virus.

For the past few weeks, the news of closures in Colorado has been constant. On Monday Gov. Jared Polis announced restaurants and bars across the state will not be allowed to serve customers in-house for 30 days. The state has also temporarily closed casinos, concert venues, ski resorts and other places where people congregate — all in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Gardner said all this shows why Congress needs to act in a bipartisan fashion to aid people who are losing their paychecks.

“This is urgent and it needs to get done now,” Gardner said. “There's no excuse. It needs to get done now.  Period, end of story.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify that Gardner's proposals will not be a stand alone bill.

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