Kamala Harris Swung By Maria Empanada In Denver On The Latest Stop Of A COVID Relief Victory Lap

March 16, 2021
Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisJacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff arrive at Maria Empanada, Tuesday March 16, 2021, in Denver.

Vice President Kamala Harris stopped in Colorado Tuesday as part of the Biden Administration’s “Help is Here” tour touting the benefits of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

During a listening session at the restaurant Maria Empanada in Denver, Harris stressed the importance of supporting small businesses, calling them the “heartbeat of every community.”

“It is our small businesses that hire from the community, that uplift the community,” she said. 

Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, took notes as business leaders spoke of their struggles during this past year. 

In many ways, the story of Lorena Cantarovici, owner of Maria Empanada is the American dream. Cantarovici started making empanadas in her home kitchen until requests for her food outgrew her space. She currently has three Maria Empanada locations in the Denver metro area. 

Like many businesses, she was hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic. Cantarovici told Harris she had to lay off her staff when restaurants closed down last year. She was able to utilize the Paycheck Protection Program, twice, and hire back about 80 percent of her staff. But Cantarovici added it will take a year or two for her business to recover.

The American Rescue Plan includes more money for PPP, as well as $28.6 billion in grants for restaurants and bars that have been hard hit during the pandemic.

PPP has not reached all business owners. Lalitha Chittoor, owner of Eco All Trading, said her micro business was too small to qualify. She started the company, which sells eco-friendly, reusable products, in August 2019 to support her daughter Madhvi’s desire to cut down on the use of plastic. Chittoor said she cried when she was told that her new, micro-business would not be considered for PPP, even as large companies were getting millions. 

She’s hopeful that the American Rescue Plan does include help for her company,  through a $15 billion boost to the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which provides very small businesses with long-term, low-interest loans.

“I really believe that this will support our economy,” she said. And once the country moves past COVID and the economy recovers, she believes the conversation will turn back to issues like sustainability and climate change, that will in turn help her business.

The other participants in the roundtable were Jack Briggs of Springs Rescue Mission and Gabriela Salizar, owner of Colorado Artisan. 

Harris’s visit to the state was shorter than planned because of travel delays. Instead of visiting Salud Family Health Clinic in Fort Lupton in person, she got a virtual tour from the airport terminal. 

The clinic has been vaccinating minority and vulnerable populations, with their vaccine supply coming directly from the federal government.

"So sorry we're not there in person but (I) really do want to highlight what you are doing as a model of what a community can do to make sure that we're reaching all people and making sure that all people are vaccinated,” Harris told John Santistevan, president and CEO of Salud Clinic over Zoom.

The administration has focused on equity when it comes to vaccine supply. Harris said it’s a priority “to make sure that we are taking into account racial disparities, and that we supply folks on the ground with the resources you need so that we have equitable outcomes." 

The state’s own vaccine information dashboard shows that vaccination rates for Black, Latino and Asian-American Coloradans still lag significantly behind the white population.

Gov. Jared Polis and Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera were on hand to greet Harris and Emhoff at the Denver International Airport, elbow bumping each. They also attended the listening session.

Colorado’s congressional Democrats welcomed Harris to the state virtually, even as they were working in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Michael Bennet was “grateful” that Harris came to Colorado to promote the American Rescue Plan, calling it a “critical and historic step in our fight against this pandemic.”

“The direct relief and enhanced tax credits represent the biggest investment in families and workers in generations,” Bennet said. “The Child Tax Credit will be the difference for millions of families across Colorado between poverty and opportunity, and create a measure of economic security.”

Leaving the business event, Harris gave a shoutout back to Colorado’s Senators, noting Bennet’s work on expanding the child tax credit and Hickenlooper’s leadership. 

None of Colorado’s Republican congress members supported the American Rescue Plan. And the state GOP noted the partisan nature of this relief package, describing it as a “liberal wish list.”

"Harris' visit to Colorado to sell this costly boondoggle won't make Coloradans forget that Bennet, Hickenlooper, and the entire Colorado Democrat Congressional delegation chose to follow Schumer and Pelosi in wasting their tax dollars on things that have nothing to do with COVID relief,” GOP spokesperson Joe Jackson said. 

While Harris was in Colorado touting the new legislation, President Joe Biden was doing the same in Pennsylvania.


Editor's note: Colorado Public Radio applied for and was awarded PPP loans in both rounds.