How Denver Post tracked the federal COVID aid that Colorado counties received

To understand how federal pandemic assistance worked its way down to the local level, The Denver Post started with a COVID-19 funding tracker run by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a nonpartisan group concerned about federal debt levels.

As of mid-January, $63.17 billion from 22 major programs has been allocated to or received in Colorado. That works out to $10,970 for every person in Colorado, per the foundation’s calculation.

That total doesn’t include $386 million given to airlines in the state, $1.53 billion in child care tax credits, and awards from smaller programs. With those, Colorado’s share of federal assistance is closer to $65.8 billion, or $11,378 per person, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Beyond that, the Federal Reserve provided another $746 million in lending facilities and other support in the state.

Information on state and local allocations, as well as more than 367,000 individual awards, grants and loans, were obtained through federal databases from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Treasury, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Transportation and other agencies. When addresses were available, an award was assigned to one of the 64 counties in the state.

The amount of assistance was unprecedented and included the first- and second-largest fiscal aid packages ever granted in U.S. history — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act at $2 trillion, approved on March 27, 2020, and the American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA at $1.9 billion, approved on March 11, 2021. Congress approved other smaller funding measures beyond those two big ones in an unprecedented effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19 and to keep businesses and households afloat.

Of the $63.17 billion in funding directed to Colorado from the 22 major programs, The Denver Post assigned $54.8 billion to a county in the state, representing about 87% of the assistance dollars. Unassigned amounts reflect programs that were not tracked on the county level, such as advanced Medicare disbursements and FEMA grants, as well as $3.8 billion in State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds under ARPA allocated to the state government. That alone represented about 6% of funding. About a third of those state funds have been obligated or assigned as of the end of last year.

The quality of information varied by funding program. The largest source of federal assistance, the Paycheck Protection Program, has detailed information on borrowers and their lenders, including addresses and the county of the borrower.

The U.S. Small Business Administration only disclosed Economic Injury Disaster Loans made through Dec. 1, 2020, but provided complete funding amounts for each state. A county’s share of 2020 loans was extrapolated to the full funding amount Colorado received. A similar method was used for federal unemployment insurance benefits, where county-level claim data was available only through 2020.

For Economic Impact Payments, no information was available beyond the statewide amount. A county’s portion was allocated based on a county’s share of 2019 tax returns, with an adjustment to reduce the number of high-income returns that weren’t eligible for payments. In the case of rental assistance dollars, how much a county had received in rental funds last year, about 25% of the total, was carried forward to create an estimate assuming a full distribution.

Local governments received ARPA fiscal recovery funds based on population and are working on how to spend those funds. The totals included in the stories and graphics are estimates. Final amounts, once they become available. may vary. Below is a list of the major federal COVID-19 relief programs over the past two years, their purpose and what money Colorado received.

Keith Allen, left, owner of Floors ...

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Keith Allen, left, owner of Floors by Keith, and installer Logan King install composite, laminate flooring on a job in Morrison on March 25, 2021. Allen prevented layoffs and was able to buy much-needed equipment using money through the CARES Act.

Business assistance

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): Under the CARES Act, the U.S. Small Business Administration rolled out a new lending program focused on helping small businesses keep workers on the payroll. It was the largest source of federal assistance extended during the pandemic, making 11.8 million loans worth nearly $800 billion.

In Colorado, there were more than 192,000 PPP loans worth $15.14 billion, averaging $78,230 per loan. PPP alone loans accounted for nearly a quarter of federal pandemic distributions in Colorado. After an initial round in 2020, a second one followed in 2021 with additional set-asides for disadvantaged and very small businesses. Borrowers who spent a majority of the funds on payroll expenses could have loans converted into grants. The average number of jobs saved was 4 for borrowers taking loans of under $150,000, while those taking higher amounts saved an average of 47 jobs. As of Feb. 20, about 87% of PPP loans had been forgiven. Variations in PPP and other SBA borrowing programs are a key reason why some counties did better than others in obtaining federal funds.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Advances (EIDL): The SBA also provided advances and loans through its traditional emergency lending program, guaranteeing $361 billion in loans to 3.9 million borrowers nationally as of March 31, including $5.7 billion to 60,185 borrowers in Colorado. Businesses were also eligible to receive advances of up to $15,000 to meet immediate needs. The SBA named individual EIDL borrowers through Dec. 1, 2020 following a court order but has not provided a full list.

Each Colorado county’s share of EIDL loans and advances in 2020 was applied to total counts in the state. Unlike PPP loans, EIDL loans aren’t forgivable, but they carry a low interest rate and can be repaid over 30 years. On March 15, the SBA granted borrowers up to 30 months from when a loan was issued to defer payments. EIDL loans and advances were an important source of business funding, second only to the PPP, and accounted for about 8.4% of federal pandemic assistance extended in Colorado. The program remains open to borrowers.

Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF): Under ARPA, Congress set aside $28.6 billion, administered through the SBA, to assist restaurants, bars, food trucks, caterers and other food service businesses recoup revenues lost during the pandemic. Amounts awarded ranged from as little as $1,000 to $10 million. Funds used for eligible expenses – such as payroll, rent, utilities, outdoor seating, etc. do not need to be repaid. The deadline for spending the money is March 11, 2023. In Colorado, $481 million was awarded to more than 1,750 businesses. That represented 0.8% of all federal COVID-19 assistance in the state.

Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG): The Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act included $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues administered through the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance. Grants for up to 45% of lost revenues, topping out at $10 million, were provided to theaters, museums, concert venues, promoters, etc. As of March 14, there were 277 initial awards and 203 supplemental awards totaling $242 million in Colorado. Denver, Boulder, El Paso, Arapahoe and Larimer counties had the highest concentration of these awards.

From second left to right Jessica ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

From second left to right, Jessica Rongved, Alan Goddell and Charlotte Weismantel demonstrate outside the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment offices at 633 17th St. in Denver to protest the difficulties in receiving unemployment benefits on Feb. 8, 2021.

Personal assistance

Economic Impact Payments (EIP): The U.S. Treasury Department provided three rounds of direct payments to individuals and families in the most direct form of federal assistance. The first round under the CARES Act in the spring of 2020 provided up to $1,400 per qualifying individual and $500 per child. The second under the COVID-related Tax Relief Act of 2020, enacted in late December 2020, authorized additional payments of up to $600 per eligible adult and qualifying child under age 17. The third round under ARPA provided payments of up to $1,400 per eligible individual and $1,400 per qualifying child, including adult dependents, in the spring of 2021.

Colorado residents had received $13.35 billion in Economic Impact Payments, sometimes referred to as stimulus checks, at the end of last year. The IRS was not able to provide a county-by-country breakout but recommended using a county’s share of tax returns in 2019 as a proxy. The cut-off for individuals to receive assistance was $75,000 in adjusted gross income and $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. For the purposes of this study, a Colorado county’s share of tax returns with AGI of $100,000 or less was used to allocate the estimated share of Economic Impact Payments. These direct payments represented 21% of the federal assistance distributed in Colorado, second only to the Paycheck Protection Program.

Federal Unemployment Insurance: The federal government, through the U.S. Department of Labor, stood up additional programs to funnel unemployment benefits to individuals who lost income during the pandemic. These programs accounted for $9 billion in assistance, dwarfing state unemployment assistance.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) was the largest program at $4.63 billion in Colorado. Approved under the CARES Act, it provided an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits through July 20, 2020. The Consolidated Appropriations Act and ARPA extended those payments at a reduced rate of $300 per week through Sept. 6, 2021. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), also part of the CARES Act, provided an additional 13 weeks of assistance once state benefits ran out and extended $1.5 billion in Colorado.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) extended benefits to self-employed workers, freelancers and independent contractors for the first time. It provided $2.6 billion as of the end of last year in Colorado. Other smaller federal unemployment programs provided $352 million in Colorado. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment could not provide county-level breakouts of payments without a large data processing fee. Using each county’s share of continuing unemployment insurance claims in 2020, an estimate was made of how much the county received.

Fraud was a significant problem with federal unemployment programs, especially PUA, and the state was overwhelmed with benefit requests in the early months of the pandemic. Despite that, the program was a lifeline for tens of thousands of unemployed workers. Federal unemployment insurance provided 14.3% of the federal pandemic assistance Colorado received, making it the third-largest source of federal support during the pandemic.

Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP): To head off evictions, Congress provided $25 billion under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 for an Emergency Rental Assistance program or ERA1 on Dec. 27, 2020. A second round, known as ERA2, worth $21.55 billion was enacted under ARPA on March 11, 2021. Colorado and 11 larger local governments received $385.1 million in the first round and $304.7 million in the second round from the U.S. Treasury. Difficulties in processing applications delayed approval times and slowed distributions.

For the purposes of this study, rental assistance funds were assigned to counties based on the share they had received as of last year — as tracked by the Colorado Division of Housing, which is overseeing distributions. The analysis assumed a full distribution of funds and the final amounts received in each county may vary from projections. The U.S. Treasury is reallocating funds from states that aren’t spending them to states that are. The deadline for distributing ERA1 funds is Sept. 30 and September of 2025 for ERA2.

On Feb. 24, the U.S. Treasury reported that $25 billion or more than half of ERA funds had gone out nationally. Colorado agencies have mostly distributed first-round funds and are now drawing on the second round. Renters facing economic hardships not related to the pandemic are now eligible for assistance, including victims of the Marshall fire in Boulder County. The wider allowance makes it more likely that funds will be spent, despite Colorado having one of the highest shares of on-time rent payments during the pandemic.

Water towns in the middle of ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Water towers in the middle of in Cheyenne Wells are pictured on April 4, 2022. Some of the federal pandemic relief money went toward the town’s water projects. Cheyenne Wells was among many rural communities granted money through the Federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act.

State and local government assistance

Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF): ARPA provided $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments to respond to and recover from the pandemic, with Colorado’s allocation, based on its population, at $5.76 billion or 9.1% of the total federal pandemic aid. Of that amount, $1.93 billion went to local governments, while the state received $3.83 billion. The money can backfill lost public revenues; provide premium pay for essential workers; support public health efforts; help alleviate economic impacts and fund water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. Within those confines, governments have wide discretion, but they are seeking more flexibility as the public health emergency eases. Funds must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent completely by the end of 2026. This fund was the fourth-largest source of assistance that Colorado received.

Coronavirus Relief Fund: The CARES Act provided $150 billion in March 2020 to help state and local governments deal with the public health emergency resulting from COVID-19. Allocations were made based on population and Colorado received $2.2 billion, accounting for 3.5% of federal assistance. School districts and local governments were among the largest grant recipients.

Infrastructure Grants: Colorado received nearly $1 billion in infrastructure assistance under pandemic funding programs, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation benefitted Denver International Airport, RTD and road projects and local airports throughout the state.