Colorado's Polis urges US to go beyond renewal of virus aid

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is urging Congress to go beyond simple renewal of earlier federal pandemic assistance and provide a more extensive package of aid to blunt the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

Polis, a Democrat, said he wants food stamp benefit increases, home heating and child care assistance, support to meet anticipated surges in Medicaid demand and an automatic extension of immigrant work visas for workers in health care and agriculture.

The requests, in a Tuesday letter to the state's congressional delegation also signed by Democratic Treasurer Dave Young, also ask for more U.S. financial support for water projects, clean energy and public lands infrastructure — key initiatives of Polis' administration.

Polis insisted Tuesday that the initiatives would be long-term job generators and said Congress should “use this opportunity to invest in resilient, climate-focused solutions as our communities recover” from the pandemic.

The requests followed an earlier call by Polis on July 28 for the U.S. government to deliver uninterrupted benefits for the growing ranks of people without jobs, cash for testing and contact tracing, and billions of dollars to backfill long-term losses in state and local government budgets.

A $600-per-week federal pandemic jobless benefit boost expired last week. With Colorado's average weekly unemployment benefit at about $400, many jobless people that amount instead of the $1,000 they received with the federal benefit. Colorado's maximum weekly benefit is $618.

Polis has already made some of the demands but new proposals included his request to renew, for at least two years, temporary immigration status for those who arrived in the U.S. as children as well as work authorization for immigrants.

He said many of these people work on the front lines of the pandemic in the state's health care industry and in Colorado's agriculture sector, which generates $8 billion annually.

“Loss of these workers would further destabilize our economy, threaten our food supply, and negatively impact families, many of which include citizen children, across Colorado,” Polis said.

Last week, the Trump administration said that it will reject new applications and shorten renewal periods, from two years to one, for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama administration-era program that shields young people from deportation.

Polis also urged allowing immigrants who don’t have a Social Security number but pay taxes through an Internal Revenue Service program to qualify for future federal stimulus checks.

Talks have resumed in Congress on a huge coronavirus bill. Democrats are demanding an extension of the $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit. Republicans have yet to offer any aid to states to prevent furloughs, layoffs and cuts to services.

Polis called for increased food stamp benefits for the growing ranks of lower-income families and older Coloradans at most risk of contracting COVID-19. About 540,000 Colorado residents received in food stamps in June, compared to 430,000 in February, as the pandemic hit.

The governor urged Congress to increase the federal share of Medicaid funding through at least June 2022 to backstop an anticipated surge in low-income residents needing medical care access. More than 1.4 million Colorado residents are on Medicaid, and the nonprofit Consumer Health Initiative projects that figure to approach 2 million by December.

More than 1,800 people in Colorado have died of the coronavirus and at least 48,000 cases have been reported.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority of people recover.