DENVER (AP) — Colorado paid out $315 million in regular unemployment payments to laid-off workers during the first full month of the economic shutdown because of the coronavirus outbreak, dwarfing the previous monthly record set during the Great Recession, the state labor department said Thursday.
The money paid out in April was over three times higher than the previous monthly record of $102.8 million set in May 2009.
Over the last seven weeks, 419,547 people have filed for jobless aid in the state as businesses shut down. The number of people filing initial applications dropped to 41,313 — about a third of them gig and self-employed workers — last week from 79,290 the week before. But the latest figure is still historically high, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Last week, the state distributed a total of $150.4 million in unemployment benefits. Of that, $65.6 million was paid by the federal government to cover self-employed and gig workers who are not normally covered by unemployment insurance and were only recently able to submit applications. By comparison, during the Great Recession, the state paid out an average of $19 million in benefits each week.
The state’s share of unemployment benefits is paid from a trust fund supported by payments from employers. It had $1.1 billion before the pandemic and has about $750 million now, Gedney said. If the state runs out of money, as others have, it can borrow money from the federal government as it did during the Great Recession.
As some businesses begin to reopen and call laid-off employees back to work, some employees are refusing to return because they do not think it is safe, either because of the working conditions or their own vulnerability to the virus.
The department has had 150 cases of workers refusing to return to work so far, said Jeff Fitzgerald, director of the department’s unemployment division. Of the 55 cases decided so far, the department said that workers in of them could keep their unemployment benefits but benefits should be suspended in five. Those decisions can be appealed, he said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
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