DENVER – Nearly 420,000 Coloradans have filed initial unemployment claims over the past seven weeks, and the state paid out about $315 million in regular unemployment benefits last month – triple the previous monthly record, which was set at the height of the Great Recession in May 2009.
There were 28,164 regular initial unemployment claims and 13,149 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) initial claims filed last week, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment announced Thursday.
That is down from the nearly 79,000 combined initial claims filed the week before, but CDLE officials said that the initial claims are still historically high, and that the 420,000 initial unemployment claims compare to an employment-eligible population of about 3.1 million in Colorado as of February.
The state paid out another $84.8 million in regular unemployment benefits last week – nearly 10 times the weekly average this year prior to the end of March.
During the height of the Great Recession, the state was paying out an average of $19 million in regular benefits each week. The former record of $102.8 million being paid out in May 2009 was shattered last month when about $315 million in regular benefits were paid out.
Senior Economist Ryan Gedney said that it’s possible the insured unemployment rate could top record levels next week.
Gig workers, self-employed workers and contractors have been paid out $65.6 million in federal PUA benefits so far. And both regular and PUA-eligible people have been paid out $407.3 million in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) so far – the $600 a week program for people receiving any type of unemployment benefit.
CDLE officials said that they had so far received 150 reports of an employee refusing to come back to work after receiving a job offer from their employer that had previously laid them off or furloughed them because of COVID-19.
Most of the state moved to the safer at home phase starting April 27 and businesses could reopen to 50% of their workforce starting Monday. The metro area counties and Pitkin County will move to safer at home starting Saturday.
CDLE Unemployment Division Director Jeff Fitzgerald said the department had so far gone through about 55 of those and continued benefits for about 50 of those people. He said five cases were deemed worthy of having their benefits suspended.
The department reiterated that there are a few common examples in which a person could refuse to return to work and still collect unemployment benefits: if a work environment does not include safe social distancing and other measures in line with safer at home orders; if an employee is an older worker or more susceptible to COVID-19 because of a compromised immune system; if an employee has medical evidence they are part of a vulnerable population; or if an employee or someone they care for has COVID-19.
That is not an exhaustive list, Fitzgerald said. But the CDLE said that it was working with investigatory safety partners and local human services departments, which would investigate the refusals and each specific case’s conditions and report back to the CDLE, after which time the department would determine whether benefits should continue.
CDLE Deputy Executive Director Cher Haavind said that employers should be cautious about what personal health information they might request from an employee, however, because of HIPAA rules.
Employers would also be required to offer an employee a similar job back at a similar wage in order to report a job refusal, the officials said.
But employees are required to report on their weekly or bi-weekly payment filling whether they’ve received a job offer or payment over that period as well.
The CDLE officials said that signing up for direct deposit is still the quickest way to receive payments – but noted that people first have to file their initial claim, then within 24 hours go back and request direct deposit instead of a debit card.
Gedney said in total, 278,917 Coloradans received unemployment benefits through regular or PUA unemployment in April.