In the two weeks before two federal unemployment assistance programs expired at the end of last week, nearly 200,000 Coloradans filed initial claims for benefits, according to data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Add the 49,757 Colorado workers who also filed initial claims for regular state unemployment insurance benefits by the end of last week, and the total number of people who filed for state and federal benefits since the COVID-19 pandemic began in mid-March comes to nearly 1 million. Locally, the number of displaced workers in the six-county region filing initial claims for state or federal benefits also saw an increase over the past two weeks, though the exact number is not yet known. As of the week ending Dec. 12, the latest figures available, the weekly total of workers filing for state aid continued to climb to nearly double from the middle of November, when stricter COVID-19 response restrictions went into effect. Those “red level” restrictions are to be lessened to the “orange” level starting on Monday, allowing more businesses to more fully reopen and bring back laid off staff. The same was true for local self-employed and gig workers, but in a shorter timeframe. There, more than 1,180 new claims were filed for federal aid by the week ending Dec. 19, up from 458 at the start of that month. For those self-employed and gig workers who were getting weekly checks through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and workers who were getting an extra 13 weeks of state benefits through the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation, two programs that expired on Dec. 26, will likely see a lapse in payments through much of January. That’s because the department is still awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on how to dole out money to those two programs that were revived under the new $900 billion Coronavirus Relief and Spending Bill that Congress overwhelmingly approved just before Christmas and President Donald Trump signed after the programs expired. Colorado labor department officials say that those workers who have already filed claims don’t need to do anything to get renewed payments. Department workers are planning to contact each claimant by email or phone calls when more information about how they need to proceed becomes available. How long that will take, however, is unknown, but state officials have previously said payments could be delayed for some until early February. Under the new aid bill, self-employed workers and those receiving extended state benefits could see their benefits extended through March 13. Federal lawmakers are already talking about another relief measure that could include extending those benefits even longer. Some of those displaced workers also could qualify for an additional $300 a week until March 13 through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. That’s the same program that Congress approved last March that expired in July that was paying out $600 a week to qualified applicants. *By Charles Ashby, The Daily Sentinel*

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