Gov. Polis signs executive order allocating $1.674 billion in federal funds for COVID-19 relief.

State distribution of $1.674 billion in federal funds from the CARES Act, to support recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it caused, was announced Monday by Gov. Jared Polis who signed an executive order pursuant to coronavirus aid and relief.

CARES funds of $48 million will be transferred to the State’s Disaster Emergency Fund for medical expenses and public health expenses incurred or expected to be incurred for the fiscal year 2019-2020, with $157 million earmarked for FY 2020-21, according to a news release. “This includes amounts expected to be distributed to local public health agencies for COVID-19 response.”

The executive order also authorizes transfers including $500 million to local school districts and “proportionally by student population to the Charter School Institute and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind and $25,000 to each Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) in the state for a total of $510 million above the Constitutionally required state share of public school finance to increase free instructional hours for our kindergarten through 12th grade education system while complying with COVID-19 public health orders.”

Public institutions of higher education will receive $450 million to “increase student retention and completions, given Colorado’s critical shortage of skilled workforce.”

Polis in the news release said: “My administration is working closely in a bipartisan way with the federal delegation and legislative leadership to do everything in our power to help Coloradans overcome this generational challenge. The steps we are taking now will allow us to increase much needed economic activity in our state.”

State Senate Republicans responded to the executive order with a news release of their own, describing the measure to “unilaterally allocate $1.6 billion in CARES Act funds” as “an abuse of power.”

Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), a longtime member of the Joint Budget Committee, said the executive order was signed without “consulting the chief budgeting body” of the state.

“The staff and members of the Joint Budget Committee, liaisons for dozens of state departments and programs, and representatives from every sector of our society have been hunkered down for the last two and a half months attempting to develop a budget despite historic decreases in revenue,” Rankin said.

“For the Governor to announce this allocation of funds — without so much as consulting the chief budgeting body — is not only a lapse in leadership but has now eliminated the people’s voice over how their money is spent. To say that I’m disappointed would be putting it lightly. How do we build a budget around the whims of one man with no deliberative process?”

The Colorado Education Association, which represents 39,000 educators throughout the state, applauded Monday the allocation of $500 million carved out for K-12 public education.

“Educators are encouraged by today’s news that Gov. Polis has prioritized $500 million in federal funding to shore up public education during the COVID-19 crisis,” Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of the CEA, said in a news release.

“This one-time funding is a positive step forward in ensuring all students can succeed in school, whether they are learning in-person, at home or a combination of both. Districts were planning to make draconian budget cuts and this money will help cushion the blow to keep educators in their jobs and keep students learning.”

Multiple more millions of dollars, under the executive order, will filter elsewhere for varying expenditures and uses. Polis directs the Office of the State Controller to issue instructions regarding distribution and to monitor expenditure. The Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting will have “final authority” resolving any issues that arise in regard to allocation of these funds, according to the executive order.

Unallocated funds — $70 million — will be transferred to the state’s general fund and may be used to support small businesses “through working capital loans” or for “additional rental relief,” according to the order.

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