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A glitch in Colorado’s unemployment system kept thousands from accessing federal coronavirus aid

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment claims to have resolved the issue that erroneously prevented some people from moving to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment office in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood on March 21, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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Coloradans cut off from unemployment pay made one last dash for the remaining federal benefit they’re eligible for, only to find themselves stymied by the state’s jobless aid system.

“A lot of us are going to be impacted this week and not get any payments at all because of the system glitch,” Brooklyn Ford, an Aurora resident who was laid off last Spring as a result of COVID-19 disruptions, said in an email. 

Ford was among the 16,000 people whose benefits abruptly ended when the State Extended Benefits program ended early because the unemployment rate fell below 5% in November. Those folks — and countless others who would have been eligible if the program hadn’t ended early — were told to apply for a different one normally reserved for gig workers and the self-employed, called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

But there was a glitch, involving how data is transferred between the two systems — from regular unemployment to PUA, officials from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment confirmed Tuesday. “Upon further investigation, we did identify an issue,” the department said in a statement.

Normally, people filing for unemployment were told to keep the two systems separate. Applying for both would be fraud.

But if an unemployed person used up all of their regular benefits, they could be eligible for PUA, the state said.

The glitch “prevented some claimants from completing PUA applications,” the department said.

Ford’s theory, which was making the rounds on Reddit, is that people who had exhausted their regular benefits could move to PUA without a hitch. But those who hadn’t exhausted their benefits — because the program ended early — saw their accounts put on “postponed” status. Applying for PUA triggered an alert that they weren’t eligible for the program.

“We expect this issue to be resolved today and will be contacting the affected claimants directly with information,” said the state department of labor Tuesday evening. 

The agency said that it doesn’t know how many people experienced the problem, but it will be emailing 5,000 people who may have been affected. 

More: Dip in Colorado unemployment rate triggers loss of federal benefits, just as new restrictions hit workers

However, the PUA program will end on Dec. 26 anyway, along with other federally-funded unemployment benefits. The programs were funded only through the end of the year by the federal CARES Act. In Colorado, that will cut off nearly 150,000 people who exhausted their benefits or were among gig workers and the self-employed, according to the latest data from Nov. 28.

On Tuesday, Congress was reviewing two proposed bills, including one that would offer those on unemployment an extra $300 per week for 16 weeks, as well as extending the PUA and extended benefits programs for another 16 weeks. If both are passed, the $908 billion package would pick up where the CARES Act ended. 


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