Thousands of unemployed Coloradans flooded the state’s unemployment site on Sunday, just doing what they had been instructed to do: Request payment on Jan. 3.
COVID-19 IN COLORADO
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- STORY: How many Coloradans need to get vaccinated to reach coronavirus herd immunity? It’s complicated.
But many found themselves stymied by a system that would not let them log in or by a note telling them they weren’t allowed to request a payment. And by late morning, the system was overwhelmed, with many users complaining they could not get through.
The snafu was blamed on the email that “erroneously instructed (recipients) to file for weekly payments on Sunday,” a Colorado Department of Labor and Employment spokesperson said.
About a half-million people were sent the “action required” email last week reminding them to make a request before the state put all claims on pause in order to move everyone to an upgraded computer system. But not everyone was eligible to make a request on Sunday.
This also had nothing to do with the end of extended or pandemic benefits, or the start of new federal benefits. The new 11 weeks plus an additional $300-per-week payment of federal benefits have not started in Colorado. The state must separately reprogram its computer system to add the federal unemployment benefit.
The timing of programs ending and restarting plus the state’s computer upgrade led to mass confusion on Sunday, said Erin Joy Swank, who recently began moderating a private Facebook group of 4,300 unemployed Coloradans. She just wanted clarity from state officials that out-of-work Coloradans will still be eligible for the new federal benefits.
“There’s a double tragedy here that the new system has to be implemented with new guidelines but the new system must add the new (federal jobless) extensions but people can’t get in,” Swank said.
To make matters worse, those trying to file Sunday for extended federal unemployment pay, called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, were then told they had nothing left, but could file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA. However, the PUA program stopped taking new claims after Dec. 26, when all federal unemployment programs ended.
And some people who weren’t scheduled to request until Jan. 10, did so anyway on Sunday even though they got a message saying “You are too early to request payment … If you do that, you will shut down your claim … and you will have to reopen your claim.”
UPDATE: On Monday, the state labor department said in a message on its unemployment page that people on regular unemployment should disregard the message that their early request ended up closing their unemployment claim.
Everyone having a problem requesting an unemployment payment needs to remember this: If you were eligible for federal pandemic benefits, all programs ended Dec. 26. If you’ve already been paid for that last week, you cannot make another request.
State officials said that only those who have not requested their last payment from Dec. 26 can file a claim — and they must do so by 6 p.m. on Tuesday — which extends the earlier deadline by six hours. People eligible for regular state unemployment should not be impacted.
“While the programs were originally scheduled to end by Dec. 31, 2020, new legislation has extended these programs through March 13, 2021. However, Colorado’s PUA system is currently closed to new applications or for filing continued weeks beyond Dec. 26, 2020, as we await guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor and reprogram our systems in order to fully implement the program changes in the legislation,” according to an emailed statement by the labor department.
In last week’s email, the state labor department said that for several days, beginning at noon Tuesday, the state’s MyUI Claimant system and the phone line for payment requests (Colorado Unemployment Benefits line), will be unavailable. The upgraded computer system is expected to be available on Jan. 10.
The state’s unemployment system has been split into two separate computer systems since the pandemic began — one for those on regular unemployment, the other for those on PUA. Those on regular unemployment file every other week while those on PUA file weekly. The new computer upgrade will put everyone on the same computer system and everyone will be able to file weekly.
Separately, the state is waiting on guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor and then must reprogram its computer system to allow for the additional 11 weeks of PUA and PEUC. That’s not expected to be completed until later in January or early February.
Those eligible for unemployment will also receive the extra $300, made possible by the new $908 billion federal COVID relief plan signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 27. Even if payments are delayed, benefits for eligible unemployed people will be retroactive to Dec. 27.
This story is being updated as new details become available from the state labor department. Read the update: Colorado unemployment office clarifies what people on unemployment need to do by Jan. 5