Colorado’s jobless miss super-extended unemployment benefits by a whisker

Congress threw laid-off workers a life line last week when it again extended unemployment benefits, but some got a bit more of a helping hand than others.

A little explained clause in the bill signed by President George W. Bush last week specifies that the length of the extension depends on the state’s unemployment rate. For Colorado workers, a slim three-tenths of a percent makes a big difference.

With the state jobless rate increasing a half-percent to 5.7 percent in September, folks out of work qualify for an additional seven weeks of unemployment assistance. But for those in 23 states that have unemployment rates of 6 percent or worse the extra checks can come in for up to another 13 weeks.

According to Colorado Department of Labor and Employment spokesman Bill Thoennes, about 11,000 workers who have exhausted their initial round of financial help might qualify for the seven-week benefit extension. Lest one think living on the dole means living large — the average check of those who may be eligible for the new extension is a paltry $330 per week.

The difference for an average worker between the short extension versus the longer one: $1,980 — a princely sum when you’re chronically unemployed.

The most recent state labor force report notes that 155,800 Coloradans were out of work last month with nearly 50,000 added to the rolls since October 2007 — a staggering 48 percent increase in the number of jobless in just a year.

Workers can apply for Colorado unemployment benefits online or over the phone (Denver Metro local 303-318-9000, toll free 1-800-388-5515 or TDD 1-800-894-7730). Because of the high volume of calls resulting from the local economic downturn, the state labor department cautions patience in reaching its staff.

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Wendy Norris

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