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Economy

At least 87,000 Coloradans will lose all pandemic unemployment benefits in two weeks

Federal programs that provided aid to gig workers and those who’ve exhausted regular unemployment end Sept. 4. So does the $300 weekly pandemic bonus.

A now-hiring sign outside the Corner Bakery Cafe at the Streets of Southglenn mall is not hard to miss. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)
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With two weeks left of the federal unemployment program, more than 116,000 out-of-work Coloradans will be impacted by the end of federal relief, and 87,147 people will lose all benefits, state labor officials said. 

“These federal programs are ending effective the week ending Sept. 4, which is the final week that claimants can request payment on the federal unemployment benefits program,” Philip Spesshardt, director of the state’s division of unemployment insurance, said Friday during a press conference.

That includes Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which paid unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed for the first time ever, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which offered nearly a year’s worth of extended benefits to those who’d exhausted regular state claims. The $300 weekly bonus to anyone on unemployment also ends. As of Aug 14, 116,390 people were receiving that $300, officials said. 

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An additional 7,200 people are in their last few weeks of regular state unemployment, so they, too, will drop off the state’s unemployment rolls.  

“As we get closer and closer to that week of Sept. 4, we continue to direct claimants to resources that will help them successfully return to the workforce,” Spesshardt added, noting that the state’s job board listed 122,170 job openings Friday.

The state Department of Labor and Employment also set up an FAQ page online about the end of pandemic benefits.

The end has been expected ever since the American Rescue Plan was approved by Congress in March. The package extended federal unemployment programs for six months. 

The end is not not quite sinking in for some Coloradans, especially after President Joe Biden on Thursday encouraged states with high unemployment rates to use other federal aid to offer benefits.

“Many people are still not believing it will end,” Erin Joy Swank, a moderator of a private Facebook group for unemployed workers, said Friday. “They are clinging to Biden’s words yesterday about encouraging states to use rescue funds to extend benefits.” 

Colorado’s unemployment rate declined from 6.2% in June from 6.1% in July, which was among the 15 highest rates in the nation. The U.S. unemployment rate was 5.9% in July.

State labor officials did not indicate plans to extend benefits in Colorado.

“And many are confused because they still have a balance and are not understanding the expiration date,” Swank added.

Only those who are eligible for regular state unemployment will be able to continue requesting a payment each week.

The week of Aug. 7, 132,863 Coloradans received an unemployment payment. Of those, only 25% would have been paid if federal pandemic unemployment didn’t exist.

The slow decline in Colorado’s unemployment rate can be attributed in part to people dropping out of the labor force, possibly due to retirement or for health reasons, or the need to care for a child or an aging family member, Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the Department of Labor said.

“From May 2020 to July, private businesses have added 293,300 payroll jobs compared to losses of 362,200 in March and April of last year,” Gedney said. “That represents a recovery of around 80% of private sector jobs lost earlier last year, which outpaces the U.S. recovery rate of 77%. Colorado’s private sector job recovery rate ranks as the 16th fastest in the nation.”


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