Governor Jared Polis is calling on federal officials to renew funding for Colorado's National Guard so it can continue to help with the state's COVID-19 response, and to ensure members serve long enough to be eligible for benefits.
The federal government is paying the full cost of guard deployments in 44 states, including Colorado. That makes those guard members eligible for early retirement and education benefits, thanks to the post-9/11 GI Bill. However, that's only if they are deployed for at least 90 days.
President Donald Trump's order funding extended deployments expires on June 24 and Politico recently reported the administration does not plan to extend it. That means many guard members will see their deployments end short of the threshold for benefits.
"This is wrong to deprive them of one day of duty and thereby deny them the benefits that they have earned by putting themselves at risk," said Polis at his Wednesday press briefing. "If this decision stands not to renew our National Guard past June 24th, it not only hurts our emergency response, but it does a huge disservice to our heroes. It would be a cruel insult to our brave guardsmen and women."
The Colorado Guard first deployed in early March to help ramp up testing, and hundreds of members have been working in various capacities since then. The state was approved for federal funding on April 8.
In late April, the entire Colorado congressional delegation sent the president a letter asking him to extend federal support for the guard through the end of 2020.
Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, who served in the National Guard, criticized the recent news that the administration might let the funding expire next month.
"We owe it to these citizen soldiers who have answered the call during this time of crisis to provide them the benefits they have earned," Crow said in a statement. "What’s more, our nation still needs these men and women at field hospitals, testing facilities, and operations centers to help us through this crisis."