Colorado approved for extra $300 unemployment payments – but only for 3 weeks so far

Colorado has been approved to tap into federal money to pay an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved Colorado for payments through the newly launched Lost Wages Assistance program Wednesday, according to a news release from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The initial approval, however, only covers the three-week period from July 26 through Aug. 15. The application window is open until Sept. 10 and FEMA is waiting to see how many other states request money before approving further weeks, state officials say.

“The Department will communicate to claimants should Colorado be approved for additional weeks of (Lost Wages Assistance) benefits,” Wednesday’s press release reads. Later on in the release, officials add, “we may not know for some time.”

Now comes the potentially lengthy process of updating state systems to get those payments out to people in need. State officials said in a news release that reprogramming has begun and they are hopeful unemployment recipients will start getting payments for past weeks in mid-September.

Colorado is one of eight states to apply for the program thus far, state labor officials say. Once activated, it will provide $300 per week in unemployment payments to any worker who has lost hours and wages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic so long as they are receiving at least $100 a week from any state or federal unemployment fund.

It is not clear yet how much money will be provided to Colorado. The program has access to up to $44 billion in FEMA Disaster Relief Fund dollars to fund unemployment systems nationwide.

“This additional benefit of $300 per week will put at least $265 million into the hands of our unemployed workforce who have been impacted by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, and provides critical support during this time of extreme need,” Joe Barela, the state labor department’s executive director said in a news release Wednesday.

President Donald Trump created the Lost Wages Assistance program via an executive order earlier this month. It at first caused heartburn in cash-strapped Colorado because of an early caveat, since resolved, that the state would have to come up with $100 per week to draw down the federal money.

The LWA program comes on the heels of the expiration of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program launched by the massive CARES Act stimulus bill. That paid UI recipients $600 per week in extra benefits before expiring in Colorado on July 25. Congress has not moved to replace it. More than 560,000 Coloradans received payments through that program, state labor officials say. The state’s unemployment office procressed more than $2.4 billion in those payments.

As of Aug. 8, more than 694,000 Coloradans had applied for unemployment benefits since mid March.

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