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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

Colorado Unemployment Claims Surge Amid Virus Closures, Cancellations

Matt Bloom
A sign posted outside of Mod Pizza in Johnstown lists the stores new operating hours.

More than 20,000 Coloradans filed for unemployment benefits this week as major industries continued to shed workers in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to state labor department data shared Friday.

The change is a dramatic shift from the state’s unemployment situation earlier this year, which was at a 44-year low. The virus’ spread has led to mass layoffs in the ski, hospitality and food and beverage industries as government restrictions forced more businesses to close and customers to stay home.

State labor economists first recorded a surge in new unemployment claims from 400 on March 7 to more than 6,800 on March 17. The newest numbers — while preliminary — represent a more than 1,400% increase week-over-week, showing how the pandemic has begun to deliver a blow to Colorado’s economy.

In response, state and local governments have announced a number of relief measures to help workers affected by the virus.

On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis unveiled several actions at the state level, including expediting payment of unemployment claims, providing temporary relief from evictions and foreclosures and suspensions of all utility disconnections should residents miss bill payments.

“It’s getting warmer out there,” Polis said. “But there’s still snow on the ground. We simply cannot leave families without heat or electrical power especially when the public health situation is such when we want them to remain in their homes when possible.”

Polis also took the step of extending the state income tax payment deadline until July 15. The extension includes all business and individual filers.

“This is a critical step that will help our businesses and families keep more money in their pockets,” Polis said.

At the local level, Denver this week established a $4 million relief fund for small businesses hurt by the pandemic. The program will offer cash grants of up to $7,500 starting in April.

Mayor Michael Hancock said it’s the first of many measures the city is looking at.

“We recognize this is going to be a long haul and we know it,” Hancock said. “These are our initial steps and we’re going to keep working. We’re going to remain in the laboratory to determine opportunities and remedies as we work to recover from these challenges.”

A new city program offering $1,000 grants to local artists temporarily closed its application portal less than 24 hours after opening due to an “overwhelming response.”

In Fort Collins, city officials have waived fares for all public transit services to lessen the economic burden on residents. The fare suspension includes the MAX, the city’s bus rapid transit service, and the FLEX regional route from Fort Collins to Loveland, Longmont and Boulder.

Filing for unemployment:

The sudden influx of residents seeking unemployment benefits has weighed on the state’s online claim portal, causing frequent crashes. Instructions for filing a claim are available here.


I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.
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