Apr 28, 2022 - Business

Colorado to keep unemployment benefits expansion post-recession

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Colorado will make it easier to claim jobless benefits and pay down roughly half of its unemployment debt, all with an eye to the next recession.

Why it matters: The pandemic depleted the state's unemployment insurance account in five months and the state now owes the federal government more than $1 billion.

  • $11 million in interest is due by October with Colorado employers on the hook for an additional $270 million in payments next year.

What to know: A bill introduced Wednesday would send $600 million the state received in federal relief dollars back to the U.S. Treasury to pay down the unemployment debt.

  • Colorado currently provides up to $700 a week for 26 weeks to claimants.

Other provisions preserve the state's expansion of the pandemic-era fiscal safety net by:

  • Giving people living in the country illegally jobless benefits if their employers pay into the system.
  • Eliminating the one-week waiting period to receive benefits when the fund is at a certain solvency level.
  • Allowing unemployed workers to get part-time jobs and earn up to 50% of their salary before seeing benefit reductions.
  • Studying additional payments to caregivers of dependents.

What they're saying: "In the future — for the next recession — Colorado is going to be a much better place," Sen. Chris Hanson, a Denver Democrat and bill sponsor, told us.

Between the lines: The legislation is one of the most-watched issues this session, but it came together just two weeks before adjournment because of back-and-forth negotiations between liberal organizations that wanted to expand the system and business groups that didn't want their members to pay the whole tab.

  • In the deal, employers received continuity for future payments and will be able to avoid paying multiple surcharges.

The other side: Republican state Sen. Bob Rankin, a budget writer from Carbondale, signed on as a co-sponsor, but the bill won't draw universal support.

  • The measure falls far short of what his party wanted in a bill from Sen. Rob Woodward (R-Loveland) that would have used $1.1 billion in state dollars to completely eliminate its unemployment trust fund debt.
  • A Democratic-led committee declined to vote on the measure when it was considered in February.

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