Election 2020 Michael Bennet

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet arrives to speak at "Our Rights, Our Courts" forum New Hampshire Technical Institute's Concord Community College, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. 

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet says Colorado is in the same plight as the nation when it comes to problems and solutions related to the global pandemic.

Hospital in the state are "hammered" for lack of ventilators, face masks and other medical supplies waiting on help from the federal government, but so are other states, said the Democrat from Denver who was running for president when this thing started.

"I'm pleased again today to see the president once again using his production act power, but this is coming much, much later than it should have," Bennet told the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC Friday, the same telephone venue occupied by Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner from Yuma on March 23.

"I don't think Colorado is being discriminated against versus other states. I was on the phone this morning with (Sen.) John Borrasso, who's from Wyoming and he's got exactly the same concerns."

The senator's remarks bookended estimates this week by the business-oriented Common Sense Policy Roundtable and the left-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute show this week show the budgetary risks facing Colorado and the potential windfall in federal money from federal relief aid.

Bennet said the $2.2 trillion bipartisan stimulus package "supercharged unemployment" insurance, including extending the benefit to contract and gig workers for the first time, and put money aside to prop up small businesses.

Coloradans are expected to get $4.85 billion in direct payments. Those out of work could receive a $600 weekly unemployment benefit, which the Colorado Fiscal Institute valued between $150.6 million and $322.7 million a month to feed the state’s economy.

You can read the institute's full analysis by clicking here.

The act includes $377 billion on loan guarantees with potential for forgiveness for small businesses. 

"This is a massive bill and the whole thing came together in a week," said Bennet, who favored a stronger effort for small businesses than the final bill reflected.

The cost of the package represents the value of roughly 10% of the nation’s gross domestic product, noted Chris Brown, the research leader at the Common Sense Policy Roundtable.

Brown said fiscal analysts won’t have a full grasp of the economic task at hand until unemployment bottoms out, calling the freefall and uncertainty “virtually unprecedented.”

“We expect the numbers to continue to climb,” he said.

He noted Goldman Sachs projected that gross domestic product would fall 24% in the second quarter on March 20, then 11 days later updated the number to 34%. Economists, however, are hopeful of a 19% rebound in the third quarter later this year.

The Colorado state budget is facing at least a $750 million blow from coronavirus, Brown estimated, noting that alone would wipe out the proposed $500 million extra the legislature had planned to put into transportation next year, plus the cost of full-day kindergarten.

“The impacts are quite large,” he said.

Because of higher enrollment tied to coronavirus and unemployment,  Colorado could see a $385 million increase in Medicaid costs, which were about $9 billion last year, the Fiscal Institute report states.

The greatest job losses will be in retail, accommodations, food service and arts and entertainment, losing a projected 183,000 jobs in those four sectors alone. Other sectors combined add up to an estimated 115,000 job losses this year, Brown said.

“For every two jobs lost across four industries, there’s another job lost somewhere else,” he said.

Brown fielded a question about whether deregulation was the answer to rev up the economy.

“I think it’s critical that we remove barriers to innovation,” he told the conference call, noting that some regulations and requirements were being relaxed during the emergency.

He added, “It will be interesting to see if any of those remain” after the crisis.

Leaders are thinking about what the next government response will be, especially given the election-year nature of the crisis.

Chambers of commerce and economic leaders from across the state sent a letter to the Colorado legislature's budget-writing committee this week pointing to President Trump's goals of putting $2 trillion into the nation's infrastructure during the recovery. 

"The stimulus passed last week included $150 billion for state and local governments," which Bennet called a good start, but that more should be done there.  

"We need to start thinking about our priorities for the next phase of response," he said.

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