City of Boulder Invests CARES Act Funds to Support Community Members, Businesses Hardest Hit by COVID-19
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress earlier this year, created a Coronavirus Relief Fund to assist state and local governments to respond to the impact of the pandemic.
The State of Colorado allocated $4.7 million from its share of this fund to the City of Boulder for use on a reimbursable basis for eligible pandemic-related expenses. The city chose to direct the bulk of these funds to directly support community members and businesses hardest hit by the pandemic.
Assistance for community members
The city’s Housing & Human Services Department (HHS) has amplified existing programs and created new initiatives to support community members disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Our goal is that no community member experiences displacement, hunger, desperation or lacks access to essential services, due to COVID-19. These programs address basic needs such as food, housing and health, including:
Food, housing, financial and mental/behavioral health assistance: COVID-19 has affected many of our community members financially. Funds have been dedicated to augment HHS programs and partnerships in the areas of:
- Food distribution and access, for distribution of food through pantries, schools and directly to low-income community members experiencing quarantine or lack of transportation
- Financial assistance through programs including the HHS Older Adult Services Program and Family Services, Jewish Family Services and Out Boulder County.
- Rental assistance through Emergency Family Assistance Association and Boulder Housing Partners.
- Mental and behavioral health services from agencies providing professional, individual therapy, group support therapy and mental health and suicide prevention training for low-income Latino, LGBTQ, youth and other underrepresented community members.
Childcare supports: The city is partnering with Boulder County and the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County to meet COVID-related financial needs among childcare providers.
Nonprofit supports: The city is providing funds through the Boulder County Nonprofit Emergency Relief Fund Grant Program to help alleviate COVID-related loss of revenue for nonprofit human service agencies.
Housing Helpline: The city allocated $90,000 to the Housing Helpline, which was established in April 2020 and is managed by Boulder County. The Housing Helpline connects community members experiencing financial difficulties resulting from the pandemic to resources for rental assistance, mortgage relief, mediation and legal services. Community members in need are encouraged to call 303-441-1206 for assistance.
BTHERE – Homeless Engagement: This program uses a multi-disciplinary outreach team to provide COVID-19 information and resources and navigation materials to people experiencing homelessness. The program’s goal is to connect people to the homeless service system, prevent encampment and illegal behavior in public spaces. bouldercolorado.gov/hhs/bthere
Bridging the Digital Divide: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our community to stay home more often. For some, this has created barriers to access and connectivity. The city is committed to ensuring that our entire community has access to the tools they need to stay connected during the pandemic. This program, offered through Older Adult Services and Boulder Public Library, supports families and individuals as they navigate online learning, gain access to health and social services, or overcome social isolation. It provides Internet-access hot spots and devices to ensure people stay connected in times of social distancing.
Inclusive communications: HHS has dedicated funding to reach community members outside of the city’s typical communication channels. This includes outreach through community connectors, translation of materials into Spanish and Nepali, and creation of COVID-19 education and awareness materials.
Assistance for businesses
The City of Boulder recognizes COVID-19’s significant impact on local businesses and recently announced an expansion of its Boulder Business Recovery Program (BBRP) through Feb. 28, 2021. The program was created by the city in response to the pandemic, enabling businesses to expand outdoors to help offset capacity limits put in place under the state’s Safer at Home order.
Several additional programs have been launched to support the local economy during the pandemic, including:
Small business grants - The City of Boulder dedicated part of its federal CARES Act funding to create two rounds of small business grant programs to help small, local businesses and nonprofits address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In October, grants totaling more than $675,000 were approved for 201 small businesses in the community, predominantly consisting of businesses employing two to 49 employees. Of those, 41% self-certified as woman-owned, 21% self-certified as minority-owned and 16% were local nonprofit organizations. In April, the city provided $250,000 to seed the funding of a challenge grant, the COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund, with local philanthropists and the Boulder Chamber. That grant program provided over $450,000 to small businesses facing unexpected expenses due to the pandemic.
Restaurant S.O.S. (Safe Ordering Service) Program - third-party delivery subsidy
Indoor dining limits, consumer cautiousness, and cooler weather have impacted almost every restaurant. Restaurants report that tight margins are further strained by rising costs of third-party delivery. To help address this, the city allocated funding to subsidize a third-party restaurant delivery program, Restaurant S.O.S. (Safe Ordering Service). The program incentivizes community members adhering to safer behavior while supporting local restaurants and eating at home via delivery and encouraging local spending, which generates sales tax revenues critical to maintaining city services. Restaurant S.O.S. pays the restaurant’s portion of delivery fees from third-party delivery vendor, Nosh Boulder, from Nov. 12 through Dec. 30, 2020. (Delivery recipients continue to pay their portion of the delivery fees from Nosh, but fees are capped at 15% through 2021 or when restaurant in-person dining capacity restrictions are lifted.)
To help businesses during the COVID-19 crisis and further zero waste goals, the city provided funding for a Sustainable Takeout Items Subsidy. The subsidy helped 74 restaurants purchase sustainable takeout materials. The city is looking to extend this popular program.
Safe Boulder messaging campaign
This messaging campaign encourages safe and responsible visitation and public health orders, such as social distancing, hand washing and wearing facial coverings in public places, businesses, schools and offices, and includes collaboration among the city and community partners (Boulder Chamber, Small Business Development Center, Downtown Boulder Partnership, CU, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Latino Chamber, and The Hill Boulder).
The city had until recently set aside 15% of its Coronavirus Fund allocation, $713,118, in a reserve, however recently decided that it will likely use that entire amount to support continued and expanded COVID testing in the community.
Rounding out the response, the city’s Fire-Rescue, Open Space & Mountain Parks and Facilities departments have funded projects for the safe operation of city infrastructure and to support the protection of staff and the community.
“Being able to amplify existing programs and create new initiatives to meet the evolving needs of our community during the pandemic has been critical,” said Interim City Manager Chris Meschuk. “I am proud of our city for being able to secure this funding to support local businesses and ensure our most vulnerable populations are not forgotten.”
These efforts are only a few taken by the city and its partners in direct response to expressed needs of businesses in the community. The city continues to monitor local impacts affecting businesses and the local economy by conducting regular outreach, providing access to safe operations and resource providers and conducting surveys. Continued monitoring and strategic response are critical to community awareness and to anticipating and, as possible, containing the long-term impacts of the pandemic on Boulder’s businesses, economy and quality of life.
The City of Boulder continues to support efforts that prioritize public health and safety and the recovery of local businesses. For more information about the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the city’s COVID-19 webpage.
Zach McGee, Media Relations for Housing & Human Services, 303-868-6810
Jennifer Bray, Media Relations for Community Vitality, 720-413-4215
Published Nov. 13, 2020