Gov. Jared Polis announces $375 payments for Coloradans making under $52,000

Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans will receive $375 each in one-time, direct payments that come out of untapped funds, Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday.

According to an executive order signed by Polis, eligibility for this money will be limited to those earning under $52,000 who have filed for unemployment at least once between March 15 and Oct. 24 of this year, and who met state eligibility requirements for a weekly benefit amount between $25 and $500 during that same period.

The Polis administration estimates that more than 400,000 Coloradans will receive payments, for a total of $168 million to be distributed statewide. Polis told The Denver Post the money would hit bank accounts by Dec. 1, and that people will not have to apply for the money.

Multiple members of a household can receive payments.

About $149 million of the total money, Polis budget director Lauren Larson said, will come from “some expected reversions to some over-budgeted lines for the medicaid program. we’re seeing a slower uptake in case load.” Additional money will come from disaster relief funds.

“It’s essentially money that has been budgeted but not spent in the last year,” Polis said.

More than 750,000 Coloradans have filed for unemployment since mid March, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. As of the week ending Oct. 10, nearly 218,000 people were collecting ongoing benefits, or filing for support multiple weeks in a row.

“These direct payments are the best way to get hard-working folks through a very difficult period and get our economy back  on track,” Polis told The Denver Post.

“It’s going to help some folks get through winter and it will also get good for our economic recovery,” he added.

The governor collaborated on this move with state lawmakers, said state Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat who chairs the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

Explaining where all this money comes from, Esgar told The Post, “The general fund allocation for Medicaid was an overestimate based on caseloads that ended up being less than anticipated, combined with a higher federal match that was extended.

“This would have reverted to the general fund, but we are instead reallocating the resources back to hardworking Coloradans who need them. The governor has the authority to do this, and we were happy to work with him to provide this badly needed assistance.”

The governor said he considered making this move earlier in October but was waiting to see if there would be another round of federal coronavirus relief payments. He said he is disappointed that the president and Congress have not reached a deal for more unemployment assistance.

This announcement comes less than a week before Election Day. The governor, a Democrat, announced the payments in a press release quoting a slew of Democratic legislators. One of those lawmakers, state Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and the vice-chair of the budget committee, said he doesn’t think people should “read too much into the timing.”

“The importance was getting the assistance to folks before the end of the year, considering that it looks like Congress isn’t really going to do anything,” he said.

The federal government has twice provided bonus payments to people collecting unemployment during the pandemic. First came the $600 per week program authorized under the CARES Act, which ended July 25. That was followed by the Lost Wages Assistance program, created through a presidential executive order in August. That program provided $300 in extra weekly benefits for people who were on unemployment between July 26 and Aug. 29. State unemployment officials estimated that 350,000 Coloradans were eligible for that program.

Colorado was one of the first states to apply for the Lost Wages program. That happened despite Gov. Polis saying in August that the state could not afford to provide $100 per week in matching funds the program allowed for.

“There’s no way that we would have more than two or three weeks, tops, of the ability to do that,” Polis said at the time.

Colorado was ultimately approved for $553 million in Disaster Relief Fund money for the program, which provided people who lost their jobs specifically due to the pandemic with bonus payments for up to six weeks. The deadline for Coloradans to certify their eligibility and claim some of that money was Monday.

The undocumented community has not been eligible for any of these payments, and it is again ineligible for this latest round.

“The horrifying story of this whole thing is that while other folks have been able to secure assistance, … the undocumented community has largely been left behind,” Moreno said, predicting that “there are going to be discussions about addressing that in the next legislative session.”

This is a developing story and it will be updated.

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