Out-of-work Coloradans who stopped getting pandemic unemployment assistance when the program ended in December will be able to reopen and file new claims starting Saturday, Feb. 20.
“They will be able to begin certifying their weeks or the payments filing new claims and reopening if they were moving into programs,” said Joe Barela, director of the state's labor department. “That's really exciting."
The rollout came earlier than expected, Barela added. It’s the second launch of federal extended unemployment benefits. The first phase began in early February for people who still had money remaining on their account in December.
Federal programs set up through the CARES Act ended in December leaving hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic without any aid for weeks. The state doesn’t know exactly how many people will qualify for Saturday’s rollout but said it emailed about 289,000 people with information about the benefits.
Getting the programs revamped after almost two months took a while partially because of technical issues with the state’s newly modernized system. Since the software is new, the benefits from the Continued Assistance Act needed to be programmed into the system.
“There are 12 different paths that people can take to get to where they are today on unemployment with regular unemployment and all the federal programs that have come out,” Barela said.
The delay wasn’t entirely the state’s fault, said Phil Spesshardt, benefits services manager with the department.
“When Congress waits until the program ends to take any action and then we have to wait for additional information from (the U.S. Department of Labor) guidelines that creates those gap weeks for individuals, where they continue to struggle, where they are very frustrated, where they can't pay their rent, they can't pay their mortgage and they fall behind on bills,” he said. “So while we can catch them up later on, a lot of that damage has already been done to those individuals financially.”
He is concerned that a similar delay will happen again if lawmakers don’t act fast to pass a third stimulus package.
“My comfort level would have been the Congress had something done this week and that it was signed by the president by Friday,” he added.
Since mid-March 2020, about 818,000 people have filed regular initial unemployment claims. For the week ending on Feb. 6, a combined total of 184,755 continued claims and claims meant to help people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic were filed.
People should apply for regular unemployment benefits on Saturday, and they’ll be able to certify their weeks on Sunday. Federal rules require the state to verify that people aren’t eligible for or have already used regular unemployment benefits.
Users will not be able to access the state’s online system starting Friday evening through early Saturday morning ahead of the rollout.