Fear of economic ruin makes Colorado leaders hesitant to issue stay-at-home order as COVID-19 spreads uncontrolled

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Tara Padilla is pictured at home in Commerce City on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

Low-wage workers face greatest risk

Economic ruin in a shutdown scenario can take many forms.

When Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order in March, he did so with the knowledge that federal coronavirus relief — including $1,200 checks, $600 weekly unemployment benefits and small business loans — would buoy a wide range of Coloradans facing economic ruin and all that can come with it: hunger, housing instability, mental health crises, joblessness.

Things are even worse today, virus-wise, than they were when he issued that order, which shut down the majority of retail business in the state for more than a month and preceded a temporary flattening of the COVID-19 curve in Colorado. But this time, there’s no federal financial safety net, since Congress has failed to agree on a new stimulus package.

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In interviews with The Denver Post, Polis, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Congressman Ed Perlmutter and several top state budget officials acknowledged that it would be easier for Colorado leaders to pull the trigger on stay-at-home orders they know could save lives if that safety net were still there.

“We really could not have taken the steps that we did to contain the virus in March and April without knowing that people would be receiving $1,200 (checks), and rental assistance, and small businesses got (loans). That was a big part of it,” Polis said. “The federal government was paying you to stay home. … It worked. It was a one-time intervention.”

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He added, of today’s outlook, “It’s unfair to ask people not to be able to pay rent and put food on the table. That’s not a reasonable ask of Coloradans.”

Millions of Coloradans are staring down those very problems. A survey this month by the U.S. Census Bureau found that more than a quarter of people here belong to households struggling to meet basic expenses. The survey found two in five households are behind on rent or mortgage payments, and that nearly one in 10 households doesn’t have enough to eat.

“I’ve handed out boxes of food at some of our events on Fridays, where we give away food baskets,” Hancock said, “and there are people coming through there who’ve said to me, ‘Mayor, I’ve never imagined myself — I’ve never been in this situation before.’”

Tara Padilla knows what that feels like. She’s a bartender at the Denver Central Market inside Denver International Airport, and she lost her job for about three months earlier this year, between late March and midsummer. At that time, even with $600 per week in federal unemployment money — a benefit that hasn’t been available since July — she fell way behind on bills and maxed out her credit cards. She said she might’ve fallen into homelessness without the support of her partner.

In the absence of federal benefits, Padilla said another shutdown “would seriously financially ruin so many families that I know.”

She’s one of many thousands of workers who are having to make the impossible choice between risking infection at work and risking poverty …read more

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Source:: The Denver Post – Politics

      

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