Polis: Trump Order Won't Help Unemployed Coloradans for Long

Colorado Governor Jared Polis, at left, being swabbed at a new COVID-19 testing site at Water World in Adams County.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis, at left, being swabbed at a new COVID-19 testing site at Water World in Adams County.
At an August 10 press event publicizing a new COVID-19 testing facility in Adams County, Governor Jared Polis didn't reject the idea of using state funds to supplement extended unemployment benefits, as mandated in an executive order just signed by President Donald Trump. But he did point out that legal restrictions put such severe limits on payouts that the aid would be little more than a stopgap.

"Our state isn't allowed to deficit-spend," Polis said in reference to language in the TABOR Amendment. "So we would have no resources beyond two to three weeks to provide those unemployment benefits."

The site, set up at the closed-for-the-season Water World, was the second that Polis visited today; he'd previously stopped by a similar facility at the Aurora Sports Park. In both places, he noted that delays in testing for the novel coronavirus at the Pepsi Center — where results that had once been returned quickly began taking as many as twelve days to process — necessitated a change in tactics. Hence the creation of the two new sites, where testing turnaround should be between two and four days.

Polis, who took a public test for the first time since mid-May, stressed that "free, quick and easy" analyses at the two new sites should require no more than fifteen minutes for those who register online in advance. In addition, material associated with the tests at Water World will be available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Farsi and Hmong; Polis suggested that the site may be the only one in the entire country to specifically cater to those who speak Hmong. He urged those with flu-like symptoms, as well as anyone who feels they may have been exposed seven days earlier and people eager to take part in outdoor visits with loved ones at senior centers, to take the tests.

Polis also teased the creation of more community testing sites in the near future, and encouraged counties interested in establishing one of their own to contact the state, which will be "happy to help."

After wrapping up his remarks with a reminder that Coloradans need to "foster a sense of unity and responsibility" in terms of mask use, social distancing and the like rather than letting the disease "creep up on us in stealth mode," Polis introduced Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan, who pointed out that "in a typical summer, everyone comes to Water World to beat the heat. This summer, we need people to come here to beat the virus."

According to Ryan, the state is now capable of running over 3,000 COVID-19 tests per day and is training "a small army of contact tracers."

During a brief question-and-answer session, Polis didn't take the bait when asked if falling positivity numbers and other improving statistical data might mean easing of assorted restrictions. Instead, he maintained that the good job Coloradans are doing in terms of safety is allowing the state to keep most of the economy open, as well as many school districts to plan for on-site instruction. But he also stressed that "the types of events that are dangerous and that really no state or country has figured out are mass events. ... We look forward to being among the first states to figure it out, but right now during this global challenge, that's something no one has figured out the answer to."

Shortly thereafter, a reporter inquired about President Trump's unemployment order, under which the federal government would contribute $300 of a new $400 benefit, with individual states on the hook for the other $100. Rather than talking about likely court challenges that could prevent the order from taking effect, Polis said that Colorado would have the ability to pony up that much dough for "no more than two or three weeks, tops." As a result, the order, if implemented, "buys a little more time for a federal deal, a bipartisan deal."

He advised leaders on both sides of the ideological divide to "get to the table and iron out the details."
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts