Out of work Coloradans have started to receive extended unemployment benefits for the first time since December, but the rollout has had some hiccups.
The state’s labor department estimates about 230,000 people are included in the first phase of federal benefits meant to support people who lost their jobs because of COVID-19. Those programs include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC).
People who had active claims when the programs expired in December are included in phase one of the rollout. The state paid out $216 million since Jan. 30.
Those who used up all of their benefits before the end of December won’t be eligible for extended benefits for at least a few more weeks. The state hopes to roll out the second phase of benefits later in February but that isn’t certain, said Cher Roybal Haavind, the deputy executive director for CDLE.
A flood of claims came with a flood of questions and calls
The resumption of extended benefits did result in account hiccups for some recipients though, leading many to flood the department’s help line.
“We were receiving as many call attempts in a day as we had received in the few weeks prior,” Haavind said. “All of these programs are incredibly complicated to program into the system — number one from a technology perspective, and of course, even more confusing for claimants given the complexity of the programs and the rollout.”
The department has nearly 450 agents currently working at its call centers and is on track to increase its staff to 550, Haavind said.
Some filers were confused by language on the online application — especially in the wording of a critical question about whether their job loss was due to the pandemic — but CDLE said its ability to correct that is limited because the wording is mandated by the federal Department of Labor.
The roll-out of extended benefits comes as the department is also taking new steps to root out fraudulent claims.
Haavind said the department has over a million claims that have been flagged as potential fraud since the start of the pandemic. It recently began using a private service, ID.me, to make it easier for people to confirm their identity if their account is flagged for fraud. So far the state has sent out 28,000 emails to people who had already tried to challenge their fraud holds. Through that process, about 6,800 people have verified their identities, resulting in the payment of $4.8 million worth of frozen benefits.
Nearly 11,000 people filed a regular initial unemployment claim for the week ending Jan. 30. For the week before that, 70,150 people filed a continued claim. The state paid out $20.2 million in benefits for the week ending Jan. 30, adding to the almost $7 billion in total claims since the pandemic began.