Colorado initial unemployment claims drop for 6th straight week but record benefit payments continue

State has paid $616M in regular benefits since late March
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Posted at 11:34 AM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-28 18:36:52-04

DENVER – Colorado paid out another $95.3 million in regular unemployment benefits last week – the second-highest weekly state payout on record – though initial claims fell again for the sixth week in a row.

Another 15,603 Coloradans filed initial regular unemployment claims last week – down from 17,825 the week before. And another 6,635 people filed federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) initial claims last week.

That brings the combined total of initial regular and PUA claims to 498,851 over the past 10 weeks. Last week, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment officials said the state’s unemployment rate climbed to 11.3% in April – the highest in Colorado since comparable recordkeeping began in 1978.

The state paid out another $95.3 million in regular unemployment benefits last week – the second-most ever behind the week ending May 9, when the state paid out $96 million.

In total, the state has paid out $616.8 million in regular unemployment benefits since March 29. During the height of the Great Recession, the state paid out an average of $19 million in regular benefits.

The state has also disperses around $868 million in the $600 a week benefit for anyone receiving regular or PUA benefits since the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program kicked in in Colorado mid-April.

Accommodation and food services continue to have the highest number of benefits paid and have accounted for about one-quarter of claims, CDLE officials said Thursday.

The department said it was adding some new things to its website this week to help cut down on the still-massive number of calls coming to the call center each day (around 15,000 to 20,000 each day, officials said). Those include additional forms to request a backdate on a claim and payment on backdated weeks, as well as some of the other more-common questions first-time claimants have had.

CDLE Deputy Executive Director Cher Haavind said many callers have never gone through the unemployment process before and are asking questions that are answered on the department’s website.

The department is hosting town halls Friday morning in English and Spanish to try to address some of the most-common issues people are having. The department will also reopen its lobby starting June 1 to handle about 40 to 50 claimants a day.

Haavind said that the department had partnered with Google to try to implement an online interface to go along with the call center. They are working on training 85 new agents who should be on the job in four weeks, officials said.

The CDLE said it hadn’t seen a significant increase in the filing of refusal-to-work forms over the past week. As of Thursday, there had been about 1,100 submissions from employers and the department had reviewed 869 of them. The officials said about 16% of those types of claims filed have resulted in a person losing benefits.