Coloradans Asking For More From Their Congressional Reps In These Strange Times

March 24, 2020
A view of Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 20, 2020.A view of Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 20, 2020.Susan Walsh/AP
A view of Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 20, 2020.

The new coronavirus has disrupted all aspects of everyday life and as people try to cope, one place they're turning for help is their member of Congress. 

Democratic Rep. Ed Permultter’s heard from his constituents a lot this past week — all looking for help.

“From people stuck on cruise liners to individuals concerned about the restaurant that they just closed and the people they just laid off,” Perlmutter said.

He even heard from his mail carrier when he was at the office about how they are stretched thin as workers self-isolate because of a lack of protection as they go door to door. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner — who’s self-isolated due to exposure to a constituent who later tested positive — said via Skype that all congressional offices are feeling the pressure and fielding an array of questions.

“What about payroll taxes? Direct assistance what does that mean for me? Should I keep people employed?” Gardner listed as examples. “I can guarantee you every person in Congress — their staff and the member — is seeing an uptick in questions, casework and general concern.”

Like other members of the delegation, Perlmutter said he and his staff are trying to get answers for people as quickly as possible as they navigate government bureaucracy and foreign travel restrictions. Perlmutter said it’s not only about providing a constituent a solution but “provide him some sense of calm, that he’s got somebody who is reaching out to whomever we can within the federal government.”

It helped in the case of Boulder resident Lisa Rogers. She called the office of Rep. Joe Neguse when her daughter, Charlotte, found herself stuck in Guatemala when she couldn't book a flight home before the border closed. Rogers expected to get a call back “in July,” but was pleasantly surprised when a Neguse staffer called back a few hours later. 

That staffer kept Rogers apprised of the situation and eventually let her know about a special flight out a few days later, which enabled them to buy a seat home. “That wouldn’t have happened if not for the efforts of Joe Neguese’s office,” Rogers said.

But many more Coloradans remain stuck abroad. Neguse said it’s been “deeply frustrating” for those that remain stranded. He led a letter urging the department to take immediate steps to help bring people home. 

“Helping with the coordination, the sharing of information, the appropriate sign-ups for various programs the State department is administrating to bring people home,” are just some ways Neguse believes the federal government could lean into the issue. “It has been an uphill climb in convincing the federal government, the State Department, to arrange for flights, for example, charter flights.”

Sen. Michael Bennet wrote the department to ask them to set up a task force to bring people home and provide logistical support and suggested allocating $200 million to the task. The department’s Coronavirus Global Response Coordination Unit was set up last week.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging Americans abroad to register with the department’s STEP program to get the latest information. And he said Friday that “we’ll track and we’ll try to get everybody back just as fast as we can.”  

Neguse said he and other members of the delegation are coordinating their efforts.

Perlmutter admits for the people waiting for help, it might seem like the government and their congress member isn’t doing enough.

“Well I think everybody has to cut everybody else some slack,” he said. “And by that, I don’t mean that we’re not going to process this as fast as possible, but I do think everybody does recognize this as an emergency.”

He said it’s a fast-moving situation, and when you think you’re getting a handle on it, something else pops up.