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Though Colorado unemployment extended benefits won't end early, some still calling for halt

Business owners say they're having trouble hiring workers
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Posted at 5:31 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 20:16:18-04

DENVER -- Though Colorado’s governor and labor department have both already said that extended federal unemployment benefits will not end until the Sept. 5 deadline, some business owners in northern Colorado are still clamoring for an earlier end date as they struggle to hire workers.

"We've got lots of folks sitting on the sidelines and we just want to get them back into the workforce," said Pete Gazlay, the president of Total Facility Care.

Gazlay managed to get 170 community members and businesses to sign a letter asking Gov. Jared Polis to end extended unemployment benefits early, as some other states have done. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) said in May, and reiterated last week, that the state would not be ending the benefits any sooner than the federal deadline.

"I mean, there's restaurants that are closing days and not operating, and they're giving up that revenue for their business. I think in some service industries, it's going to end up closing some businesses if it gets extended beyond Sept. 6," said Gazlay.

The CDLE said in a press call on Friday that the $300 a week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for self-employed and gig workers, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program for workers who exhausted their regular unemployment, would all run through the week ending Sept. 4.

Some argue that even though the FPUC benefit was reduced from the $600 it was at the beginning of the pandemic, that workers are still earning enough to not want to work, despite requirements that unemployed people seek work in order to earn benefits. Others say people are seeking better wages and qualities of life in their returns from pandemic unemployment.

“It was easier to hire back then, 20 months ago, than it is right now," said Gazlay. "What's it going to take to get them to have to work 40 hours a week and come back into the workforce? Is that $18? Is it $20, is it $25?"

Mac Clouse, a professor of finance at the University of Denver, said if wages were to increase, costs could then be passed down to the consumer. He said the labor shortage especially impact small businesses.

When this strain on hiring will end is unknown.

"The extra $300 is supposed to end in September and so that may make it a little less lucrative to stay at home. So, that might force some people to actually think about going back to work," said Clouse.

A spokesperson with governor’s office said, in part, “To reject federal unemployment benefits would be rejecting hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the state of Colorado. it’s free money from the federal government for Colorado and if Colorado ended it before Congress is paying it through the first week in September, it would drain roughly $600 - 800 million out of our state.”

State leadership also stress that just because Coloradans are returning to full-time work, it doesn’t mean financial challenges disappear.

"I understand the governor's position on that," said Gazlay. "The challenge is that we're all paying for this."

Ryan Gedney, the senior economist for the CDLE, said last week there were still around 18,000 contnued PUA claims and about 67,000 continued claims for PEUC the week before, which would factor in to around 85,000 people still receiving those extended federal benefits. He said he expected those numbers to decline heading toward September.

Just over 64% of the state's eligible population was employed in June — just under 3 million people. The CDLE is implementing multi-factor authentication for the MyUI+ program as another way to cut down on unemployment fraud.

CDLE Executive Director Joe Barela said last week that 18,000 Coloradans had opted into the Colorado Jumpstart Incentive program that pays people up to $1,600 to get back to full-time work, and about 7,000 had been paid their first installment.