News broke this week that the number of American workers filing for unemployment ticked up last week. This is not surprising, especially to Coloradans in 15 counties that just learned about new restrictions on business capacity, indoor dining and schools. While a necessary step in the face of uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, these new restrictions make it impossible for some businesses to stay open — and for some workers to go to work.
Unfortunately, as this new wave of unemployment claims flood the state, Colorado does not have access to the same resources that helped to boost unemployment checks in the spring and summer. In fact, within a few weeks some Coloradans may even see their unemployment checks come to a halt — unless Congress acts now to extend emergency unemployment relief that is set to expire on Dec. 31.
It’s a cruel irony that Congress chose New Year’s Eve as the final day for their CARES Act and FFCRA relief measures. It’s the last day for emergency paid family leave that let millions of workers receive a paycheck while staying home with kids when schools or day cares were closed. It’s also the last day for emergency sick leave that let workers stay home but keep their jobs and income when they got sick. And it’s the last day of forbearance on a number of loan programs, such as federal student loans — forbearance that allowed more than 37 million Americans to stop making payments for a few months while they weathered the financial consequences of job losses and pay cuts.
So, while many Americans cannot wait for 2020 to finally end, we’ll face a grim reality as we welcome 2021: a spreading pandemic, new business and school closures, disappearing unemployment checks, and renewed financial pressure from loan payments coming due.
The Colorado Legislature is reconvening in a special session to implement emergency measures that will help small businesses and families at risk of losing their homes. But the state has limited options when it comes to the broader types of relief that Colorado’s families urgently need. Our new paid sick leave program will not offer much help this winter, since workers will begin earning benefits slowly on Jan. 1, and the new paid family and medical leave program won’t be available until 2024.
Congress must act now to extend the relief measures that kept so many Coloradans afloat in 2020. Families should enter the holiday season knowing they’ll be able to keep the roof over their heads, food on the table, and perhaps a few presents under the tree as we head into these difficult winter months. This is no time for playing politics or playing possum, trusting that the next Congress and administration will take care of this mess once they are sworn in. Mid-January will be too late for many Americans who are losing jobs now or who will face a financial cliff when relief measures expire on New Year’s Eve.
It’s time for Congress to follow the Colorado Legislature’s lead and get to work before they go home to celebrate the holidays. Otherwise, this will be anything but a happy new year for millions of Americans.