After more than a month of waiting, Coloradans who saw their federal unemployment benefits shut off in December were finally given the green light to reopen their claims this past weekend.
Those who qualify for the two key federal programs but didn’t have an existing claim on Dec. 26 could be waiting for weeks yet before they have the same opportunity, state labor officials said Thursday.
That rollout of the reauthorized Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs — serving gig workers, self-employed people and others uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — took until late January after state officials waited on federal guidance and then raced to launch the programs on Colorado’s new unemployment system.
On a news call Thursday morning, state labor department chief Joe Barela celebrated the reestablishment of the programs, known as PUA and PEUC, as well as the labor department now being able to pay out $300 per week in boosted unemployment support on claims through mid March. Those boost payments were also included in Congress’ second coronavirus stimulus bill signed into law at the end of December.
“We’ve paid more than $216 million in benefits since Saturday,” Barela said.
Phase 2 will allow people who qualify for the federal programs that didn’t have active claims on Dec. 26 and those who have exhausted their state benefits and now need to switch over to federal support to open claims. But it’s not clear yet when the state’s MyUI+ system will be able to serve those people.
“We had hoped by the end of the month, so we will certainly circle back with everyone when we have a firm date on that,” Cher Haavind, the labor department’s deputy executive director, said Thursday.
By the time that capability is activated, there will be plenty of people from the first phase who will be waiting again. Since claims are being backdated to Dec. 27, some people who had active PUA and PEUC accounts are burning through what they have left in a single payment request and will need to refile in Phase 2.
“I want to make sure that if there is a gap in benefits, and there most likely will be … we will make (claimants) whole,” Barela said. “If they are eligible for any week in that 11-week extension, the system will make them whole when we roll that out.”
Thursday’s news call touched on a number of other problems the state unemployment office has been grappling with amid unprecedented demand.
The PUA and PEUC relaunch contributed to an overload of the call center for the MyUI+ system on Monday with many callers getting busy signals when dialing (303) 536-5615 for help.
As of Thursday, 440 agents were working in the call center, about 60 more than were available on Monday, Barela said. Another 100 were in training this week with more staff scheduled for training next week.
Barela implored people to use ColoradoUI.gov to get their basic questions answered. Local workforce centers can also offer help.
“If you are getting frustrated with the call lines, we do have release valves for you,” he said.
Fraudulent tax forms
People who have received 1099 forms showing they received unemployment income from the state that they never applied for are urged to report that by visiting cdle.colorado.gov/fraud-prevention.
The labor department is racing to get corrected 1099 forms out to fraud victims but Barela said the latest guidance from the IRS is that victims do not need to wait for those corrected documents to file their 2020 income taxes.
“The IRS is recommending that people only file taxes with income that they actually received,” Barela said. “But do request the 1099-G in case they ever do get audited.”
More than 1 million new unemployment claims have been filed in Colorado since the pandemic began, including 10,989 claims for state benefits last week, state officials reported Thursday. An estimated 779,000 people filed for unemployment across the country last week as the virus continues to drive record joblessness.
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