Mesa County residents prepare to lose unemployment benefits

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- The approaching fiscal cliff deadline is particularly concerning to the more than 1,200 Mesa County residents receiving extended unemployment benefits, which allow people to collect payments after being unemployed for more than six months.

If Congress doesn't strike a deal by the end of the year, the last day for these payments would be December 29, 2012, according to a memo on Colorado Department of Labor and Employment's website.

For Fruita resident Charles Warren, who's been receiving unemployment benefits since losing his maintenance job, the loss of his $197 payment could cost him his apartment.

"It helps me pay rent, and if it wasn't for this check, I probably wouldn't have a place to live," Warren said.

Dr. Richard Wobbekind, Leeds School of Business Economist at University of Colorado-Boulder, said the ending of the payments would have both positive and negative ramifications.

"There comes a point where unemployment insurance becomes a deterrent for people to go out and look for work," Dr. Wobbekind said. "You keep getting the payment so you're not willing to look at sort of a lower wage job, and I think what this will ultimately do is put more people on the marketplace for any type of employment."

But for Warren, who's already been looking for any type of job, the thought of losing his unemployment check is overwhelming.

"You might even talk about having to move because you can't find anything here because your unemployment runs out, but you can't move because you don't have money, so it's very stressful," he said.

Currently in Mesa County, about 350 residents are nearing the end of their initial, six month unemployment term. About 850 more are already receiving extended unemployment benefits. The average unemployment check in Colorado is $353, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

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