In just under two weeks, Colorado paid out $338 million in Lost Wages Assistance, the newest federal program to help the unemployed during the pandemic, according to the state Department of Labor and Employment on Thursday.
About 217,000 of an eligible 300,000 Coloradans have been paid up to $1,800 on top of the regular unemployment benefits.
“There are still funds available and we certainly are encouraging people to please go ahead and complete that certification for regular unemployment insurance claimants and to do so by October 10,” said Cher Haavind, deputy director of the Department of Labor.
The funds are being paid out on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Lost Wages program was born out of President Donald Trump’s Aug. 8 executive order authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set aside $44 billion for extended unemployment benefits. It provides a $300 weekly bonus to jobless Americans who already received at least $100 a week between Aug. 26 and Sept. 5.
Colorado was approved for $553 million in federal FEMA funds for the program. Of the roughly 300,000 eligible Coloradans, about 68,000 are self-employed or gig workers receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. PUA users do not need to certify. About 6% of unemployed workers did not meet eligibility requirements for Lost Wages.
Those on regular unemployment needed to certify that their unemployment was due to COVID (for those who still need to certify, go to coloradoui.gov and type in “Lost Wages” in the chat box). Certification must be done by Oct. 10.
Despite some technical difficulties, most eligible Coloradans have been paid. The state began paying out two lump sums of $900 each starting Sept. 17. The second round began late last week. About $311 million was paid out by Sept. 26. An additional $27 million was paid this week, as of Sept. 30, said Jeff Fitzgerald, the state’s director of unemployment insurance, during a call with the media on Thursday.
Since the pandemic began with statewide restrictions in March, approximately 726,000 Coloradans filed for unemployment. About 563,465 were eligible for state unemployment benefits. The others were self-employed and gig workers who qualified for benefits for the first time thanks to the federal CARES Act. Those Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits are paid from federal dollars.
But with so many people unemployed, the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund was emptied in mid-August. Colorado, like 18 other states, has taken a federal loan to pay jobless workers benefits. Colorado has borrowed $350 million from the federal government as of this week.
Colorado has paid out $5.44 billion in unemployment benefits since March 29.
The number of new unemployment claims has been declining for weeks. With the week ended Sept. 26, new claims fell to 4,840 regular unemployment claims, the lowest since March. During the Great Recession, the average number of new weekly claims was 4,800, said Ryan Gedney, a senior economist at the labor department.
The Lost Wages program picked up where an earlier federal program ended. That earlier program, the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, was part of the Congressional CARES Act. It provided an extra $600 per week to anyone on unemployment making at least $1 per week. To date, Colorado paid out $2.46 billion in PUC money.
But Congress has not yet passed a new coronavirus relief program to aid the unemployed. The partisan split has meant that no plans have moved forward in the U.S. Senate, including one pitched by the Democrats (a $3 trillion plan to continue the $600 weekly benefit until January) and Republicans (a $500 billion plan to pay $300 a week until Dec. 27).
A third $2.2 trillion plan backed by House Democrats was postponed on Wednesday.