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Mesa County commissioners ask Polis to end federal unemployment benefits

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Robert Davis | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – The Mesa County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis urging him to end the state's participation in the federal supplemental unemployment benefits. 

“As Mesa County’s economy opens up, employers are posting a wide variety of job opportunities and workers are needed,” the letter reads. “These positions are currently not being filled due to supplemented weekly federal unemployment benefits.”

According to the board, Mesa County’s unemployment rate for May 2021 stood at 6% even though the number of open jobs reached “historic highs,” representing a 41% increase since May 2019, the letter says. 

For comparison, the county’s unemployment rate before COVID-19 hit was 2.9%, according to the board.

“Our economy is tracking toward pre-pandemic numbers, but we need the available workforce to meet the demand of our economy,” the letter continues.

In response to the pandemic, the federal government created several assistance programs such as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which provides unemployed claimants with a $300 weekly stipend.

The program was originally set to expire on March 31. However, the federal American Rescue Plan extended the program by an additional 29 weeks. The program is currently scheduled to end on September 6, 2021, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). 

State economists say that the economy is rebounding much quicker than anticipated. The nonpartisan Legislative Council Staff recently estimated the state will have a $2 billion tax surplus over the next three years. Economists in the governor’s office forecast that total to be closer to $3 billion.

CDLE data also shows that Colorado has recovered 265,200 of the 375,800 nonfarm payroll jobs lost between February and April 2020. This translates to an overall job recovery rate of 70.6%, which is above the nationwide average of 65.2%.

Despite these economic successes, both Colorado and Mesa County’s unemployment rates still stand above the national average rate of 5.8%, CDLE data shows.

In May, Governor Polis created the “Colorado Jumpstart” program to help spur employment. The program offers individuals who find full-time work and keep their job for at least eight weeks a one-time stimulus payment up to $1,600.

The board said they appreciated Polis’ efforts in creating the program, but that many businesses are still short-staffed. Some have reduced employee hours and days of operation, according to the board’s letter.

“We acknowledge that $300 weekly federal supplement has helped thousands of Coloradans make it through this difficult time and served a good purpose,” the letter continues. “Now, we need to get Coloradans back to work so we can get our economy back to a healthy state.”