Friday, February 18, 2011

ARRA dollars at work and still working

by Margaret Gomez

34-year-old Jeremy Kozik worked in the architecture industry for nine years before he lost his job when the Great Recession came crashing down in Colorado. Over the next 15 months, Jeremy looked persistently for a new job, but in some of the hardest hit sectors, there were very few opportunities to get back to work. Like millions of other professionals out of a job, Jeremy filed for Unemployment Insurance to make ends meet. He also participated in local educational programming to supplement his current job skills and still advance his career in these tough times. Luckily for unemployed workers, Colorado recently qualified to pay up to an additional six weeks of federal extended benefits, known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC). Jeremy heard about iCAST from another unemployed colleague who had already completed some classes there. iCAST is a non-profit organization that offers services such as resume building and educational classes to improve their job skills. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded this program and others like it in Colorado. This monumental public policy allowed billions of dollars to be streamlined directly to states to fund job training programs, public services, jobs, and bolstered newer industries, such as the renewable energy sectors, to help local communities put people back to work. So far in Colorado, that largest potions of these funds, $1,118 million have been spent on job training and Unemployment Insurance. According to a report by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, Colorado experienced an increase in the unemployment rate last December. Now at 8.8%, the unemployment rate is at its highest since the start of the economic downturn, and in 28 years. With Colorado’s unemployment rate forecasted at 8.4 percent for 2011 and 8.2 percent for 2012, workers are still depending on state programs and services to keep their heads above water in a stagnant economy. Educational training programs such as iCAST,the Denver Green Jobs Initiative, and other vital community benefit services are now at risk because the funding from the Recovery Act, which had filled some of these holes since 2009, is only trickling into the state. According to the Colorado Legislative Council, the state is now facing a $1.1 billion general fund budget shortfall for 2011 and a significant revenue crisis. The gaps in state funding will have an immense impact on everyone in our community, from those accessing Medicaid benefits to anyone currently enrolled in a school in Colorado. In order to ensure a quality future for Colorado, it’s necessary to continue to invest in our community benefit programs the way the Recovery Act did so we can achieve economic security for Colorado families.

*In January 2011, Jeremy accepted a new full time position as an architect with Western Engineering and Research Corporation (WERC).

Margaret Gomez is the ARRA organizer and can be contacted at

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