Unemployment-benefits extension crucial for tens of thousands of out-of-work Coloradans
By Allison Sherry
The Denver Post
WASHINGTON – Roughly 81,500 Coloradans will exhaust unemployment benefits in 2012 if the law that lengthens the time people can collect insurance is not renewed in the next two weeks, White House officials said Thursday.
The state-by-state analysis was released in a push to lean on Republican members of Congress to compromise during a tense day of bargaining on a package that would not only extend unemployment insurance, but also give payroll tax breaks to 160 million Americans.
"It helps keep people in the labor force and the extended benefits have helped keep the long-term unemployed in the job market," said Alan Krueger, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. "It puts more money in people's pockets."
In Colorado, 264,347 people have collected unemployment benefits from 2008 through this fall.
Before 2008, unemployment insurance got an out-of-work person about $300 a week, and lasted 26 weeks. But the depth and severity of this recession inspired Congress to vote a few times to extend that period to up to 99 weeks in some places, depending on the unemployment rates in hard-hit states such as Michigan.
In Colorado, an unemployed person can receive up to 93 weeks of benefits.
"It's an issue that certainly gains you a lot of political mileage," said Mac Clouse, a finance professor at the University of Denver. "Do you want to be viewed as the congressperson who is against helping all these people? You come off pretty much looking like a Grinch."
Colorado Republicans were exasperated Thursday, saying they passed a plan in the House earlier in the week to extend unemployment insurance.
"I voted for extending unemployment insurance benefits," said Aurora's Rep. Mike Coffman, in an e-mailed statement. "I sincerely hope that the Senate acts on it soon so families don't suffer needlessly."
Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, echoed the sentiment.
"The Senate needs to do its job and pass the bill to ensure that those Americans continue to get that assistance," he said. "For the past year, this Senate has repeatedly failed to vote on House legislation, preferring instead to put their position out in the press, rather than actually voting on bills."
Colorado's unemployment rate – 8.1 percent – is lower than the national average, 8.6 percent. Policy expert Rich Jones at the left-leaning Bell Policy Center says unemployment insurance is an economic boon because people collecting usually spend every dollar.
"The money circulates in the economy and helps other businesses," he said. "It should be a no-brainer in Congress."
Colorado's average weekly benefit is $335, and the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday that money has "saved" about 8,880 jobs in Colorado since 2008.
Allison Sherry: 202-662-8907 or email@example.com