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The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment office in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood on March 21, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The state Department of Labor and Employment clarified its message on Monday after an email sent last week caused confusion among thousands of unemployed Coloradans who rushed to file for benefits. 

The message was intended for people on regular unemployment benefits to let them know they could request benefits this week before the state puts the entire system on pause for a few days to upgrade its computer system.


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As folks did as directed, some were met with the warning on Sunday that they were asking for their benefit too soon. If they proceeded, their unemployment claim would “shut down … and you will have to reopen your claim.”

On Monday, the state told those people to disregard that message.

“They should proceed with requesting payment and ignore the message,” said Cher Haavind, the Department of Labor’s deputy director. “If claimants do not complete the payment requests now, they will be able to do so in the new system.  CDLE merely advised claimants to request early to avoid any delays in receiving payment.”

Those who went through with the early request should not have any issues this coming Sunday. Their existing claims will move to the new system and will not need to be reopened, she said.

But for those on regular unemployment who don’t request the early payment by Tuesday before the system goes on pause, they can return on Sunday and request it using the new system. 

The state’s unemployment system will be down for five days as it upgrades to the new computer system.

Colorado’s Department of Labor had planned to roll out a new computer system last spring. But the upgrade was put on hold during the pandemic, resulting in the state maintaining two computer systems — the old one for those on regular state unemployment and the new one for people on federal unemployment. On Sunday, both users will be on the same computer system, which is supposed to be faster and allow for weekly payment requests.

The state is now sending an email to everyone to clarify what happened.

For PUA and PEUC users

The problem was magnified over the weekend because the a half-million people on unemployment were sent the email that there was “action required” on Jan. 3. But not all were eligible — the email was meant only for those on regular unemployment.

Some folks on Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) — both paid from federal funds — also received the email because they were on the state’s regular unemployment rolls in the past.

But both of these programs ended on Dec. 26 with the expiration of the CARES Act. Only those who had not yet requested that last week of money could make a payment request on Sunday. It didn’t matter if they got the “too early” warning since the programs had already ended.

Both PUA and PEUC recipients will be able to rejoin the unemployment program soon, thanks to Congress passing a new federal COVID relief package on Dec. 27. 

The programs offer 11 more weeks of benefits that pick up where the CARES Act ended and pay out through March 13, thanks to the new federal plan. The relief package will also provide $300 extra per week for 11 weeks.

The state plans to announce an update on the rollout of federal benefits for out-of-work Coloradans on Tuesday. The state must reprogram its computer system to adjust to the federal changes to PUA and PUEC before folks can request a payment. The reprogrammed system should be available later this month or February.

“We have told PUA/PEUC claimants we will let them know when we have implemented the federal extensions and what action they need to take,” Haavind said. “There is no action for them to take at this time.”

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Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...