A long, sometimes agonizing wait for federal unemployment payments to restart in Colorado came to an end for another 135,000 people over the last four days.
Carrying out Phase 2 of its months-long rollout of the extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reopened its filing system Saturday to people who had used all of their federal benefits before Congress funded them for an additional 11 weeks. New applicants can also file claims for those programs now, the first time that function has been available in almost two months.
Between Saturday morning and midday Tuesday, 135,000 people were able to open or reopen PUA and PEUC claims and the state processed more than $254 million in payments to those people, labor department officials said.
Joe Barela, the labor department’s executive director, defended the effectiveness of the state’s new, modernized unemployment portal, MyUI+, during a news call Tuesday. The system has been the focus of ire from claimants who have struggled to reopen claims and collect benefits after the change over from the state’s old unemployment portal early last month.
“Since we launched MyUI+ on the 10th of January, we have paid out more than $668 million in benefits and in that $668 million there have been 248,000 Coloradans who have received a payment,” Barela said. “So we do think the system is working as designed.”
Phil Spesshardt, acting director of the department’s unemployment insurance division, ran down a list of problems that have been identified within the system that the department and Deloitte, the state’s unemployment technology partner, are working to fix this week.
Some people have reported they are not receiving payments for the week of Dec. 27, the first week that the extended programs covered after Congress allowed PUA and PEUC to lapse on Dec. 26. The state has also identified a problem with the system not accepting out-of-state IDs. Fixes should be in place for both of those problems before Friday, Spesshardt said.
The biggest looming problem is that the PUA and PUEC extensions will end in three weeks under the terms of the Continued Assistance Act, which only authorized them through March 13. The state labor department is watching developments in Washington when it comes to a third COVID-19 stimulus bill but a second, painful gap in benefits is likely if the stimulus package results in any changes to the programs that require extensive reprogramming of the state’s system.
Spesshardt said the people who had to wait until Phase 2 to tap into benefits “are most at risk of a significant gap if Congress doesn’t get something accomplished well ahead of that March 13 date.”
In the meantime, the labor department is hosting a virtual job fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday. More than 150,000 jobs, including positions with Amazon, Centura Health, Natural Grocers, will be listed, according to Barela. Military veterans will be granted early access starting at 9 a.m. Registration information is available at bit.ly/3qPurKC.
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