Colorado to start rolling out federal unemployment benefits next week; unemployment rate hits 8.4%

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DENVER – Colorado plans to start rolling out benefits in phases for people eligible for some federal unemployment benefits starting “late next week” and will begin notifying those people early next week, officials with the Department of Labor and Employment said Friday.

CDLE Executive Director Joe Barela and Deputy Executive Director Cher Haavind said the federal benefits would come out in phases, starting with the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefit – the $300 a week for people receiving at least $1 of unemployment benefits each week of any kind. Haavind said the FPUC benefits would be backdated to Dec. 27 and no action on a claimant’s behalf would be required.

Beyond FPUC, people who were claimants on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for self-employed people and gig workers, as well as those on Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) who had not exhausted their benefits when the CARES Act expired Dec. 26 will be in the first phase of the federal benefits rollout.

The CDLE will be emailing those eligible claimants next week about the steps they will need to take to receive benefits for the weeks since Dec. 26, Haavind said.

Phase 2 will include new PUA and PEUC claimants who exhausted their CARES Act benefits but who are eligible under the new federal extension, meaning some people waiting for their benefits will have to wait longer. Haavind said the department would also be communicating directly with that group as well about the next steps.

Barela and Haavind said the phased rollout would allow the department to “provide benefits to the greatest number of claimants” right off the bat.

The CDLE had been waiting for the MyUI+ system reprogram to come online and to receive full guidance on the new extensions from the U.S. Department of Labor before it could program in the changes in the new package.

Leanne Vicol, of Denver, has been unemployed for months. Once her regular benefits expired, she was moved on to PEUC. She said she had an additional $4,000 remaining in possible PEUC benefits and should be among the people who start seeing benefits in the first phase of the rollout. She said the help can’t come soon enough.

“Days are like years for us right now,” she said. “February is coming up and right now I haven’t been able to pay January’s bills. I’ve been cutting deals with every creditor that will work with us, but in a matter of a week, at the end of next week, rent is going to be due.”

Juan Campos said he has been locked out of his claim since the MyUI+ system came online and is hoping for more assistance from the CDLE soon.

“I’ve called numerous times, and like I’ve said, nobody is of assistance to help me out or send me in the right path,” he said. “I’ve asked if I can reach out to anybody and they just say no, you’ve got to wait. I don’t know what to expect. I’m not receiving any source of income at the moment.”

Fraud update

With respect to the ongoing fraud issues plaguing unemployment systems in Colorado and nationwide, the CDLE said that it sent emails earlier this week to 500 people whose claims have fraud holds on them and asked them to follow instructions to clear the fraud holds through the newly implemented ID.Me system.

Haavind said 138 people had completed the form. She said the department was reaching out to another group of 2,000 people Friday to get them to verify their identities to get their fraud holds cleared.

She said that the department will be unable to make payments until a person’s identity is verified and their fraud hold is cleared.

The department is asking people who have integrity holds on their claims to call the CDLE call center, which will flag the claim for review and direct people to the ID.Me portal to verify their identity. But the state is still in the process of synchronizing results of identity verifications and the process is not yet automated, so the state is having to reach out directly to get them into the ID.Me portal, Haavind said.

She said that as of last week, there were 140,000 claims on hold that were flagged by the updated fraud triggers in MyUI+, but only 1,200 people had called into the call center to report a hold on their claim.

The CDLE has also launched a new form where people can report receiving a fraudulent 1099 form – one of the many signs that a person’s identity has been compromised and is being used by unemployment fraudsters.

Other signals that has occurred include an employer receiving a separation request for someone still on payroll, people receiving ReliaCards for people who have not filed for unemployment, or receiving PIN change notices. The state is asking anyone who receives any of those suspicious items to report the suspected fraud to the state on its website.

December unemployment rate rises

Colorado’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped to 8.4% in December – up two points from the 6.4% it was in November. CDLE Senior Economist Ryan Gedney said the increase was likely due in part because of the move to Level Red restrictions in many of the state’s most populous counties in late November, which lasted into January when most of the counties moved to Level Orange.

The unemployment rate of 8.4% was the highest it has been since June, when it was 10.6%. Colorado’s seasonally adjusted rate was also higher than the U.S. rate, which was 6.7% again in December, for the first time during the pandemic.

Gedney said he attributed much of the rise in the unemployment rate to temporary job losses in the leisure and hospitality industry that were tied to the Level Red move, which closed restaurants to indoor dining and further restricted other businesses in the industry.

Gedney said he expected that January’s number could improve because the shift back to Level Orange happened before the week the household survey that determines the unemployment rate was performed. But he said cold weather would likely still tamp down the number of people returning to full-time work in leisure and hospitality.

The CDLE held two town halls Friday – one in English and one in Spanish – where people could ask more questions about their specific situations with unemployment. Find more unemployment resources and information here.