DENVER – About 135,000 Coloradans were able to reopen their unemployment claims or file new ones under the Phase 2 rollout of federal unemployment benefits since Saturday, but some people are still experiencing issues that the state says it will hopefully have fixed by the end of the week.
Officials with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment held a call with reporters Tuesday afternoon to provide an update on the Phase 2 rollout, an upcoming job fair, and what is likely to be another gap in federal benefits for thousands of people in coming weeks.
CDLE Executive Director Joe Barela said that since Saturday, the department had paid out $254 million in benefits. Since the MyUI+ system launched on Jan. 10, the state has paid out more than $668 million to 248,000 Coloradans, Barela said.
And while the rollout has proved to be a lifeline for many Coloradans who have waited more than two months to receive another unemployment check, a few thousand people are still encountering issues that department officials said they are currently working to address.
Phil Spesshardt, the acting unemployment insurance division director for the CDLE, said there were several different issues affecting various types of claimants.
On Saturday, the department identified about 9,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants who were not receiving their extended benefits – a problem which was fixed that night.
But since then, Spesshardt said, there are more issues affecting at least 13,000 claimants – some of which involve missing payments for the last week of December, some that involve people with out-of-state IDs, others that involved Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims that were wrongly being denied, and some who should have had their standard state claims denied but which were still showing a claim – which meant they were unable to file for PEUC or PUA.
Spesshardt said the CDLE is already working to address those issues and would hopefully have all the fixes in place for people affected by them by Friday.
Kathy Byrne, who works in the hospitality industry, is among the people who have experienced issues with their claims. She requested payment in a process that she said “went smoothly,” including for the backdated weeks, but only received a portion of what she was owed.
“I’m still waiting for five weeks of pay and I have no idea how to get ahold of anyone to find out why I haven’t gotten it.”
Spesshardt said that people like Byrne should wait through the next couple of days to see if the fixes being put in place by the department and its vendor solve their issues.
“If someone is in Phase 2 but they did not receive all their backpay for those weeks, don’t panic at this point in time. We are working on a fix and some of those fixes are anticipated to be in by this week,” Spesshardt said.
Melissa Hickey, whom Denver7 spoke with earlier this month as she protested outside of the CDLE headquarters while awaiting Phase 2’s rollout, did not have issues and said she was paid the full eight weeks she was owed.
“I paid all the bills, all the credit cards, all the house bills. Filled my tank full of gas, groceries – just [paid] all the bills that I owed,” she said.
Another gap on the horizon
Now, the possible issue on the immediate horizon comes with the fact that most of the extended benefits are set to expire on March 13. Even if Congress is able to pass another stimulus package with more extended benefits, there will likely be yet another gap that Coloradans who are still unemployed will have to face.
Last week, Spesshardt said officials with the department felt confident that if a bill had been passed last week and signed by the president, states like Colorado could have avoided a gap.
But since they were on vacation and only getting back to work this week, officials said Tuesday they are increasingly concerned of how long the gap will be.
The department is hosting a statewide virtual job fair on Wednesday at 10 a.m., where more than 400 different companies will be looking for possible hires. People can click here to sign up.
CDLE officials are also continuing to push people to the state job postings at OnwardCO and ConnectingColorado.
But with more than 135,000 Coloradans still out of work still, department officials said they knew that another gap in federal benefits would have dire consequences, which they agreed could hurt Phase 2 recipients – the people who have waited the longest for the extended benefits – the most.
“For those individuals who have been waiting the longest until we were able to roll them out here in Phase 2, they are most at-risk of a gap if Congress doesn’t get something accomplished well ahead of that March 13th date,” Spesshardt said.
The potential gap would be affected by several things, Spesshardt said. First, what exactly Congress writes into the bill, which could include a simple extension of the Continued Assistance Act extensions and would take less time to program.
After the president signs the bill, the U.S. Department of Labor will have to come up with guidance for the states – as they did with the CARES Act last spring and with the latest Continued Assistance Act in January – and then send that guidance to the states for them to program their systems.
“It’s all going to depend on the nature of that stimulus bill. If it’s a stimulus bill that essentially just extends benefits – in other words, just adds some additional weeks on, doesn’t add any other requirements on the program – that certainly shortens up the gap to reprogram. It’s much easier to put in some extra money on a claim than it is to program in some additional requirements. If there are some additional changes to programs, then you’re looking at maybe 3-4 weeks, possibly. And again understand, I’m speaking for a vendor,” Spesshardt said.
“I think the takeaway here is one, the quicker Congress acts, the better. The more they keep it simple, the better,” he added. “The more they keep it the same, the easier it is to add, the more you avoid those gap weeks.”