Sen. Stephen Fenberg, alongside Gov. Jared Polis, announces the spending plan for Colorado's American Rescue Plan dollars outside of the Colorado State Capitol building on May 24, 2021.

Colorado's legislators finally rolled a half-dozen bills that start to direct $850 million in spending for affordable housing and behavioral health five days shy of the halfway mark for the 2022 General Assembly session.

The six bipartisan bills are tied to two task forces that came up with recommendations on how to spend the federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The deadline for spending those dollars is December 31, 2024, and the money can be used for obligations through Dec. 31, 2026.

A total of 15 bills are expected, according to Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder.

The six measures sponsored so far are:

Senate Bill 148, sponsored by Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail and Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, would put $5 million into grants for either renovation or building new facilities for behavioral health for Native American tribes. 

Senate Bill 147, sponsored by Sens. Chris Kolker, D-Centennial and Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would create the pediatric psychiatry consultation and access program at the University of Colorado and allocate $4.6 million to the program and another $6.5 million for two existing behavioral health grant programs in school health and behavioral health services for children and families.

Senate Bill 146, sponsored by Sens. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada and Dennis Hisey, R-Colorado Springs, would provide $25 million to expand the middle income access program run by the Colorado housing and finance authority (CHFA). 

House Bill 1283, sponsored by Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Aurora and Mary Bradfield, R-Colorado Springs, would would set up in-home and residential respite care services and facilities for children and families in 10 to 12 regions of the state. 

House Bill 1282, sponsored by Reps. Kyle Mullica, D-Federal Heights and Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, would allocate $40 million to create an innovative housing program to incentivize developers to build affordable housing, such as modular or prefabricated homes.

House Bill 1281, sponsored by Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, and six others, including three Republicans, would set up the community behavioral health-care continuum gap grant with $90 million. The grant program would be available to local governments, community-based organizations and nonprofits for "programs and services along the behavioral health-care continuum" for children, youth and family-oriented behavioral healthcare.

Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, the vice-chair of the affordable housing task force, said the definition of affordable housing is tied to income. She contended that housing shouldn't cost more than 30% of an individual's income but that more than 318,000 Coloradans, in fact, do. Gonzales said they would benefit from SB 1282.

Also in a statement Tuesday, Mullica said the legislation will save people money on housing by "boosting the construction of innovative housing units across Colorado."

"The homes we’re looking to promote with this bill can be built quickly, are affordable, and will create new manufacturing and construction jobs in Colorado," Mullica said. "This bill will lead to thousands of new affordable homes across the state that will increase Colorado’s homeownership rate and drive down housing costs for hardworking families.”

Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, said in a Tuesday statement that the lack of affordable workforce housing is "devastating communities, employers and middle income Coloradans across the state, which is why I’m so excited to sponsor legislation that will inject funding into the state’s Middle Income Access Program."

Meanwhile, Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who chaired the behavioral health task force, said Tuesday that HB 1283 would help reduce the number of children sent to out-of-state behavioral health placements. The bill's cost is estimated at $54 million.

Gonzales-Gutierrez, the vice-chair of the behavioral health task force, said the grant program in HB 1281 will help close specific gaps in communities and increase access to care. The bill will also provide resources directly to our communities to "support locally-tailored solutions across the entire continuum of care."

"It will also ensure that there is a care access point for youth and family-oriented care closer to their communities,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said. 

The total spending for the first behavioral health bills is estimated at $168 million, while the spending on affordable housing is estimated at $65 million.

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