Extended Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Are Still Weeks Away In Colorado

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Gallery of the Presidents on the third floor of the Colorado state Capitol Rotunda. The Colorado General Assembly opened its 2021 session on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Update, 1/28/21: On Jan. 28, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment announced that it would begin paying extended PEUC and PUA benefits to some people on the week of Feb. 1. The $300-a-week FPUC boost was also scheduled to start that week.

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Colorado state officials don't expect to start paying extended unemployment benefits until late January or early February, matching their earlier projections.

Congress approved the new benefits with the second stimulus package late last month. The law includes between 11 and 15 additional weeks of unemployment benefits for both regular unemployment and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, along with a $300 boost for 11 weeks.

Programmers for the state and its contractor, Deloitte, are still working to implement the new programs.

"It’s not just as simple as throwing money back on those claims. There are other rules that end up applying," said Phil Spesshardt, benefits services manager.

A fragmented national rollout

At least 18 states are now paying out some form of the new federal benefits, according to reporter Rebecca Rainey of Politico. For example, California opened applications for the extended benefits on Monday.

But the rollout nationally has been fragmented by Congress' delays, and it comes as Colorado completes a major computer system switchover, leaving a gap of several weeks for many people.

"It’s now three weeks where many of them haven’t received payments," Spesshardt said, pointing to federal delays as the cause.

Congress approved the new benefits on Dec. 21, just as the previous relief bill was expiring, and President Donald Trump waited until Dec. 27 to sign it. The U.S. Department of Labor then issued several sets of guidance to the states for implementing the various programs, with the last set arriving on Jan. 8.

During those weeks, Colorado's labor department has been rushing to implement a long-planned (and long-delayed) technological upgrade. That project should make it easier to hire and train new staff, and to implement new programs, but it also has consumed the time and focus of staff in recent weeks.

The state also is sprinting to install a new identity verification system, ID.me, before it can pay out extended PUA benefits. The new law requires that states verify the identity of PUA applicants in order to combat fraud.

Once the state is ready to pay the new benefits, applicants will be able to collect several weeks of the benefits retroactively.

How long will extended benefits continue?

The extended benefits are divided into three different programs.

  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, provides extra weeks of benefits for people who have expended all their weeks of regular unemployment benefits.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, is the program for gig workers, self-employed people and independent workers.
  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC, is the extra $300 per week for all unemployment recipients for 11 weeks.

For the most part, the extended benefits will last 11 weeks. They'll be payable for the period between Dec. 27 and March 14, when the programs "expire."

However, some people will be allowed to keep collecting benefits during a phaseout period for several weeks after that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Anyone who collects benefits in the week ending March 14 can continue to collect benefits for another four weeks afterward — but only if they haven't yet surpassed 50 weeks of PUA benefits or 24 weeks of PEUC benefits. It can get very complicated, but the state's unemployment system will likely tell people the number of weeks they have resuming.

The $300 boost will expire for everyone on March 14.