The politics of unemployment debt in Colorado

There are just a few days left of Colorado’s legislative session as lawmakers push through a flurry of bills before the session adjourns on May 11. 

One of the more relevant proposals to impact employers and workers statewide — and touches on why this weekly column even exists — is Senate Bill 234, which passed the Senate this week and is now under consideration by the House. 

It’s the bill that would take $600 million in federal pandemic relief and pay back part of the billion-dollar loan used to fund the unemployment insurance trust fund. The loan helped Colorado provide weekly benefits to tens of thousands of unemployed workers starting in August 2020. But because of the debt, employers must pay interest on the balance and stand to lose a federal credit because there’s a loan balance. 

If the bill passes, businesses would see fewer fees. The bill also adds protections for workers should there be another economic crisis.

Colorado state representatives stand for a morning prayer as the 2022 legislative session opened Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in the state Capitol in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

But one business group is not happy. The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 6,200 small businesses in the state, criticized lawmakers for adding provisions to the bill so it’s no longer a simple plan to pay down $600 million of debt, which Gov. Jared Polis first recommended in November. Instead, NFIB threw its support behind Senate Bill 66, which proposed paying the $1 billion loan entirely using federal dollars. But that bill died Tuesday.

“Senate Bill 234 makes significant changes to Colorado’s unemployment system. NFIB questions if the $600 million is sufficient to avoid the surcharges and loss of tax credit,” said Tony Gagliardi, NFIB’s state director.

Those changes include eliminating the one-week waiting period before unemployment benefits start, retaining a pandemic benefit that let workers return to part-time jobs and keep full benefits until their earnings were 50% or more of their jobless benefit, and providing grants for a program to pay immigrants whose employers already pay their unemployment insurance but are deemed ineligible due to federal laws. Some of these would not take effect until the depleted trust fund gets back up to $1 billion.

While some states like Texas used American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay off its loan completely or replenish depleted unemployment trust funds, Colorado’s share is being split between many other programs, including affordable housing, health care and education. 

The bill is supported by the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, which called this a top priority and comes “after months of negotiations between the bill sponsors and business groups,” the organization said in an update this week. 

“While the bill does not completely pay back all $1 billion in federal debt that Colorado owes, it makes a significant dent in the number and is an important first step. A long-term solution is still needed, and the Chamber will continue to work with key officials to address the outstanding UITF balance,” the organization said.

Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, speaks during a news conference on April 27, 2022, at the introduction of Senate Bill 234, which would take $600 million of federal relief and partially pay off the $1 billion loan to the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. The bill also proposed changes to the way unemployment benefits are administered. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Business organizations, local chambers and NFIB worked together a decade ago to successfully use a bond to pay off the federal loan from the Great Recession. But not this time, Gagliardi said.

“We were not invited to the table,” he said. “Our position is the bill should have been severed and introduced as two separate bills. One bill concerning the $600 million and a second bill concerning the expansion and addition of benefits and beneficiaries.”

That’s unlikely to happen seeing that there are now three more days left in the session. The legislature must approve spending the $600 million to pay off the unemployment loan.

“I am confident it will pass,” said Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat who cosponsored the bill with Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale. “All the rest of the business community is in support of the bill.” 

If you want to listen in on how Colorado lawmakers handle the unemployment proposal for the rest of the session, check the bill’s upcoming schedule, which provides links and audio to the sessions.

Ashlee Riemer places freshly baked cookies onto shelves in the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Crested Butte, Colorado on Saturday August 14, 2021. Like other businesses in Crested Butte the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is short staffed because of a housing shortage and also because their dependable high school and college labor pool is drying up as school’s start. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

More business bill updates

The Colorado Sun’s politics team has the latest in our government section. And for those who really care about what’s going on in our state, join the fun via our exclusive politics newsletter The Unaffiliated (Sign up). 

Here’s a quick roundup of business-related policies this week:

  • No go on family leave relief — The $57.5 million proposal by Gov. Jared Polis to use one-time funds to offset how much employers contribute to employee family and parental leave ended in a Senate committee this week. House Bill 1305 would have reduced the fee split between employers and employees to pay for family leave for six months. Business groups had previously criticized the relief as a “pittance.” >> STORY
  • Restaurants can keep 3 months of taxes — House Bill 1406, which passed in the House, renews a temporary pandemic perk to let restaurants keep some of their sales taxes collected as food and drinking services. Essentially, restaurants and food service businesses can deduct up to $70,000 from net taxable sales for three months starting in July. This winds up being about $2,000 per location per month, which would cost the state $39.3 million in lost revenue but be a boon to restaurants in recovery.
  • Because not all kids go to college — For families using a 529 account to save untaxed money for college, the funds can now also be used for trade schools in addition to books, supplies and equipment needed for certain apprenticeship programs. House Bill 1310, which passed the legislature this week, clarifies qualifying education expenses in Colorado to include apprenticeships. “The heart of this bill gives students the freedom to pursue trades instead of college,” said sponsor Sen. Rob Woodward, a Republican from Loveland.
    Speaking of apprenticeships: The Colorado Office of the Future of Work is holding a session for employers and what’s involved in an apprenticeship program. >> REGISTER

Who’s hiring: Dynatrace 

Technology company Dynatrace is opening a customer experience hub in Denver and plans to hire 100 to 150 people in the next 12 months. Up to 400 employees could be based in Denver within three years. 

The Waltham, Mass.-based company, which uses artificial intelligence and automation to make sure clients’ technology systems stay up and running, picked Denver for many reasons that other companies pick Denver: the labor pool. It worked with the analytics team of real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield to look at 50 cities to determine the best location for expansion.

“Denver came out on top when it came to a variety of criteria — size and quality of the labor pool for specific roles, high quality of life, strong international airport, MST time zone — and Dynatrace was further attracted to the vibrancy and energy offered in the LoDo area,” said Shawn White, the company’s vice president of Global Customer Experience

There’s already 15 employees in Denver who are working out of the WeWork location in LoDo until its new 52,000-square-foot space at 1900 16th Ave. is ready to be occupied by the fall. 

But the company is already hiring and looking for technical product specialists and consultants, technical support engineers, customer service and business development representatives. Check them out:

>> Dynatrace job openings

More job events

Governor’s Summer Job Hunt — With many schools letting out this month, the state’s labor department is hoping to entice all those youths to take part in the 42nd annual Governor’s Summer Job Hunt. Young adults aged 16 to 24 can contact their local Workforce Center (there are more than 40 statewide — here’s a list) to get job-search referrals and tips from the experts. Workforce Centers, which are funded with federal grants, work with their local employers to fill open positions and post them on the state job board, which had 123,122 open positions on Thursday. >> DETAILS, JOB BOARD

→ A job fair for women and veterans — The state labor department is hosting a Women and Women Venters Virtual Career Fair on Tuesday. Why women? They left the labor force at higher rates than men during COVID largely because mothers tend to be the caretakers of young children. The event includes employers like Amazon, which reminded workers (with one year of continuous service and working 30 hours/week) that it offers 20 weeks of “fully paid leave for birthing mothers, including four weeks before the baby is born.” The event will share resources that benefit families and provide sessions on how programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are impacted by changes in employment. The event is online May 10 between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. >> REGISTER

Other working bits

  • It should have been free — Financial software site Intuit agreed to pay $141 million to customers who paid to file their taxes using TurboTax when it should have been free. That settlement came after investigative journalism site ProPublica reported on the issue, which led attorneys general in every state to sue, alleging that Intuit deceived low-income Americans into paying a fee for free filing. In Colorado, a $2,574,985.89 check will be split between more than 80,000 Coloradans, said Attorney General Phil Weiser. That’s roughly $30 per customer for each year they used TurboTax’s Free Edition between 2016 to 2018. Affected consumers will get a notice in the mail. >> READ EXPOSE
  • Refunds for Colorado — A refund of $400 to $800 is headed to Colorado taxpayers because of a $2 billion surplus over the TABOR cap this fiscal year. That’s the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (explained here). As previously reported, checks should be mailed by Sept. 15, if the bill passes. But left pending were those who didn’t file by the April tax deadline. They — some 310,000 people — would miss qualifying for the refund. This week, the matter was addressed and Senate Bill 233 was amended. If you filed for an extension, best to get your taxes in by October as the bill now requires “timely files … before the extended filing deadline.” >> STORY
  • How a startup ends — The Denver area has become a hub for founders who want to start a company and grow it fast. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Nanno, a babysitting app that seemed to be everywhere before the pandemic, has now been acquired by another startup, Call Emmy. It wasn’t what cofounder Liz Polizzi Oertle had dreamed about, but this ending means Nanno’s story isn’t over yet even if the brand is going away. >> STORY
  • How a startup begins — As mentioned in the above story (go ahead, read it!), sometimes founders don’t really know how to go about raising capital and scaling their business. The Rockies Venture Club, a nonprofit organization that helps founders and investors, has a program that could help. Its week-long HyperAccelerator is a crash course in startup funding and growth. And there are not grants to cover the cost. >> APPLY HERE

Thanks for getting through another week of What’s Working. I’m always looking for workers and employers who are willing to talk about business two years into the pandemic so please reach out via email and I may just feature your story in an upcoming column. ~ tamara 

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