Struggling Coloradans find help at state capitol

By Lucy McFadden

The working families in Colorado who are struggling to survive the economic downturn got a double dose of help at the Capitol on Tuesday.

In the Capitol’s foyer, some 25 nonprofit agencies participating in the “Help for Working Families Fair” offered advice on finances, mortgages, unemployment benefits, health care, housing, utility assistance and home weatherization.

And as the fairgoers moved from table to table, they could watch Gov. Bill Ritter as he signed into law several bills designed to offer yet more assistance.

One of those bills was House Bill 1276, sponsored by Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. HB 1276 offers homeowners threatened with foreclosure a 90-day window to evaluate their options. With the help of a foreclosure counselor from the Colorado Foreclosure Hotline, homeowners who are good candidates for the program will be able to negotiate with their lenders to develop a plan that would allow them to avoid losing their homes, if possible.

The Colorado Foreclosure Hotline, 877-601-HOPE, was among the agencies participating in the Help Fair. The free state program helps homeowners who have missed payments or are in danger of foreclosure and warns against missing payments and predatory lending practices.

Another fair participant, the private, nonprofit Colorado Housing Assistance Corporation, offers loan programs, supportive financial counseling, and free classes to first time homebuyers and borrowers in the metro area. Classes are offered in Spanish, también.

Charlotte O’Donnell, the program coordinator of CHAC, noted that “the fair was well intended, but a little bit of a challenge because it was organized last minute. Hence there was not much marketing for the event.”

She also thought that the decision to host the fair at the Capitol was a mistake because it was not accessible to people.

“That created a challenge for folks; it’s not easy for people to drive downtown and then have to park. Late notice and location made it difficult to get people involved.”

O’Donnell said she spoke with a total of 10 people throughout the two-hour fair.

Other legislation that Ritter signed into law on Tuesday included:

House Bill 1310, sponsored by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, which ensures that workers are classified as either employees or contractors so that working families won’t be deprived of unemployment insurance protection and other benefits.

House Bill 1136, sponsored by Rep. John Soper, D-Thornton, and Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, which updates training and licensing for electricians.

House Bill 1076, sponsored by Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, and Tochtrop, which increases unemployment insurance payments for almost 2,000 Colorado retirees.

Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Tochtrop and Pace, making more Coloradans eligible for unemployment insurance. It also provides funding to cover 13,000 unemployed Coloradans with 20 additional weeks of unemployment benefits and extends benefits to people in job training.

Senate Bill 76, sponsored by Heath and Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, will modernize the computer systems that run the unemployment insurance program at the Department of Labor and Unemployment.