Denver offering mortgage assistance to those hit by the government shutdown

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Stapleton residences under downtown Denver’s skyline. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver is offering financial help to some federal employees and others affected by the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, Mayor Michael Hancock said Monday.

His administration is offering up to two months or $5,000 in grants to help homeowners facing hardship pay their mortgages. Hancock said at a press conference that after watching a news report on the partial shutdown last week and realizing it could last indefinitely, he started calling aides to see what could be done to help federal workers in the Denver area. He said by the end of last week details of the temporary mortgage assistance program were in place and $485,000 in funds for the program had been identified.

City officials estimate metro Denver is home to about 30,000 federal employees. It was unclear how many were affected by the shutdown. Hancock said some federal workers have savings or other resources, but some are living paycheck-to-paycheck, as his own family did when he was growing up.

“I certainly understand the … uncertainty they’re facing,” he said.

Mile High United Way will use its existing hotline, which people seeking information on a range of aid programs can reach by dialing 211, to take applications for the mortgage assistance starting Wednesday.

Christine Benero, president and CEO of Mile High United Way, joined Hancock at the news conference and said her organization saw an increase in 211 calls Monday morning. Friday was the first day since the shutdown began that federal paychecks were due.

Eric Hiraga, executive director of Denver’s Office of Economic Development, said Monday that it’s not just federal employees who have been affected by the shutdown, so it’s not just federal employees who can get assistance. A cafe owner whose business relied on a lunch crowd of government workers or an entrepreneur with a federal contract are also being hit as the shutdown continues.

To be eligible for the mortgage assistance, which will not have to be repaid, Denverites will have to show they are earning less than 120 of the area median income and have been hurt by furlough, temporary layoff or significant reduction in working hours.

Among those that have responded in a similar way to the shutdown is the Food Bank of the Rockies, which announced last week it was adding emergency food distribution centers in the Denver area to serve federal workers and others. Food Bank spokeswoman Janie Gianotsos said Monday the response has been significant from people who have been furloughed and who had not turned to the main regional food bank in the past.

Denver officials also said Monday that low-income renters affected may take advantage of the city’s Temporary Rental and Utility Assistance Program, which began in 2017 as part of efforts to address Denver’s housing crisis. Callers can get information about the rental assistance program by dialing the city’s 311 help line.

Don Mares, executive director of Denver Human Services, joined Monday’s news conference to spread the word that his department is open extra hours to help people complete paperwork for federal food aid benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. To ensure benefits aren’t disrupted by the shutdown people must verify they will need SNAP benefits in February by noon Tuesday. Human Services has extended lobby hours until 7 p.m. Monday.

Hancock, a Democrat, called on national leaders to end the shutdown and then focus on negotiating a compromise on border security. With the shutdown in its fourth week, President Donald Trump is continuing to insist on a U.S.-Mexico border wall that Democrat leaders say would be ineffective and immoral.

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