Colorado's three Republican U.S. House members are calling on Gov. Jared Polis to stop paying a supplemental federal benefit to the state's unemployed workers, arguing that the extra $300 a week is discouraging Coloradans from getting back to work. But Polis on Friday rejected the proposal, saying the funds are stimulating the economy and helping businesses emerge from the pandemic.
In a letter delivered Friday to Polis, U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn, Ken Buck and Lauren Boebert noted that businesses nationwide have been unable to fill millions of jobs and that 90% of Colorado restaurants say they're having trouble hiring enough staff for the summer.
"We must get Coloradans back to work," Lamborn said in a statement. "I am extremely concerned that what was meant to be a temporary supplemental to help Americans through forced lockdowns has now been weaponized by Democrats in an attempt to raise the minimum wage."
Boebert said businesses in her congressional district tell her they can't hire enough workers when so many are making more in benefits than they would with a job.
"We have to stop paying people that should be working to sit at home on the couch," she said in a statement. "It’s well past time for the government to end COVID bonuses and stop disincentivizing work."
Polis said in a letter sent Friday afternoon to the three GOP lawmakers that the state last week counted the lowest number of Coloradans receiving unemployment benefits since the beginning of the pandemic and said nearly 8,000 residents have enrolled in a state program that will pay bonuses to Coloradans who reenter the workforce.
"If Colorado ended these benefits prematurely, it would harm individuals, business owners, and the broader economy," Polis wrote.
"If Congress would like to increase the flexibility on how Colorado could use the $600-800 million that the state will currently receive as enhanced unemployment funds, Colorado would be interested in other uses, but it would be dumb for Colorado to simply send this money back to Washington."
In addition, Polis said, Colorado was facing a skilled-worker shortage and had record-low unemployment just before the pandemic hit in March 2020.
"It is unrealistic to expect that following a global pandemic and challenging economic environment that it would be like flipping a light switch, but we know the $1,200 - $1,600 incentive provided through the Jumpstart program is helping make sure that work is rewarded," he wrote.
Congress in December approved paying jobless workers an additional $300 a week through Labor Day, halving the federal enhancement that was in effect last year when the economy slowed dramatically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the nation rebounds amid record federal stimulus spending and rising vaccinations, the economy is facing what some economists call a gap in the labor market as businesses rush to rehire workers.
Half the states — all led by Republican governors — are ending the extra unemployment pay starting this month in an effort to make jobs more attractive, though economic analysts say that some of the jobless are seeking better positions, some can't return to work without affordable childcare and others are concerned about contracting COVID-19.
The Associated Press reported that Labor Secretary Marty Walsh recently called complaints about the federal jobless aid "a distraction," pointing to a steady decline in the number of Americans applying for unemployment.