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What’s Working: Here’s how Colorado is rolling out federal unemployment benefits, plus Paycheck loans are hopping

We get into acronyms again this week as the state Department of Labor shares how regular UI, PUA, PEUC and SEB systems are rolling out the $300 federal bonus payments

  • Credibility:

The biggest news of the week, at least for unemployed Coloradans, is that federal benefits could start as soon as Jan. 29.

No need to remind the unemployed what those are, but let’s do it anyway: This is the $300 weekly bonus for 11 weeks, otherwise known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). 

The state Department of Labor and Employment is rolling out the federal benefits in four phases. Besides FPUC, the first phase is open to those who haven’t exhausted their pandemic benefits, also known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).

The timing depends on the state’s vendor, Deloitte, turning the system on, which could be as soon as Jan. 29, said Phil Spesshardt, the state labor department’s benefits services manager. 

Spesshardt walked me through how this is supposed to work:

  • Regular unemployment — Those receiving benefits since Christmas could see the $300 be sent to their bank accounts the evening of Jan. 29. This benefit is automatic and retroactive to Dec. 27 so four weeks of FPUC would show up all at once. This, of course, assumes Deloitte turns on the system. But once on, the program kicks in, sends the files to the bank and then it’s up to the bank to make the money available.
  • PUA — If you hadn’t used up 39 weeks of PUA by Dec. 26, you will be notified by the state that you can reopen your PUA account. If this happens on Jan. 29, you can reopen your claim and at the same time, certify for the past four weeks if eligible, and the state will send the money to the bank that night. The new law adds 11 more weeks.
  • PEUC — If you still had money in your account on Dec. 26, you will be notified by the state that you can reopen your account as early as Jan. 29. You’ll be able to certify for past weeks through Dec. 27 if eligible and the state will send the payment to your bank that night. The new relief plan adds 11 more weeks.
  • Exhausted PUA and PEUC — You are part of Phase 2. After the state gets the above folks back into the system, it plans to tackle this second group of people.
  • State Extended Benefits (SEB) — Many are in Phase 2. More on this below.

→ FPUC, the $300 weekly bonus, is included with weekly benefits for pretty much everyone on unemployment. In many cases, it’s paid automatically and lasts for 11 weeks or till March 13. But FPUC won’t be paid before one requests the week’s payment or can certify for back weeks. (Updated 1/24 for clarity)

→ Retroactive FPUC is also automatically paid at the first payment request. This is one of the things that needed to be programmed, so remember that when you question why everything took so long. Skip this step and users would have to file a backdated claim, overwhelm the call center with questions and wait who knows how much longer.

UPDATED Feb. 3, 2021: Now that the process has rolled out, dozens of other scenarios have been brought to my attention. I can’t address them all but the phases are still pretty much the same. But remember — everything is based on eligibility. In particular, PUA and PUEC users in Phase 1 can only collect past weeks if they had an eligible balance for up to five weeks. Once a Phase 1 account is exhausted, a user must wait for Phase 2. To stay up to date, read our latest unemployment stories HERE.

Phase 2: Exhausted benefits

Phase 2, which starts after it’s programmed into the new computer system, includes those who exhausted their PEUC and PUA last year. 

Now, Spesshardt shared an interesting difference between the programs. Most people who’ve read this far know that PEUC is for people on the state’s unemployment who’ve exhausted their regular benefits. And PUA is for gig workers and the self-employed who don’t pay for unemployment insurance. 

But the PUA calculation is based on weeks, while the PEUC calculation is based on dollars.

Since the CARES Act provided 39 weeks to PUA folks, some people did use up all 39 weeks last year. Those folks must wait for Phase 2. The federal plan offers 11 more weeks. 

Meanwhile, the original 13-week PEUC program is actually based on 13 times one’s weekly benefit. So, if someone worked part time, they aren’t paid a week’s worth of unemployment. The remainder stays with their account. After 13 weeks, they may still have money in it. Thus, it’s not exhausted (and those people would be in Phase 1).  

But if you’ve exhausted PEUC and have no money left, then you’re part of Phase 2 and will get 11 more weeks when the system is ready for you.

As for SEB, most will return to PEUC for 11 weeks. But more on SEB below.

Phase 3: Confusing benefits

Something new this year and oh so fun for the state to program into its computer system is the mixed earner. These are people who qualified for both PUA and regular unemployment. 

The new federal plan took into account people who made more money as gig workers but still did some regular work. According to last year’s rules, these “mixed earners” had to exhaust their regular benefits before moving on to PUA — even if they earned way more as a gig worker. That left some people struggling financially since most of their prior year’s income had come from gig work

That rule is still the same this year, but the new law allows mixed earners to get an extra $100 a week as they use up their regular benefits.

“That one is extremely difficult to program,” Spesshardt said.

Phase 4: Super-confusing benefits

This phase includes people who have bounced around between programs.

There could be others. Spesshardt calls it sort of a catch-all for the folks who can’t easily join one of the earlier phases, as programmed. 

No retroactive SEB

There’s a smaller group of people who last saw a benefit check on Nov. 28. That’s when State Extended Benefits ended a month earlier than expected, after Colorado’s unemployment rate fell below 5%. Everyone did their best to try to get Colorado back on SEB again, including state lawmakers and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who helped get the right language into the new federal relief bill

It worked. But…

When SEB did end in late November, the state recommended people apply for PUA. Many did. And many saw a larger weekly check since PUA’s minimum was $223 while regular unemployment was $25. And that created a problem of retroactive SEB.

“There is a large group of low-wage earners that if we took that (retroactive) option to backdate SEB,” Spesshardt said, “we would have created all kinds of overpayments for people who can least afford it.”

The state had to pick whether to allow retroactive payments or not. It decided not to because of the large number of people who would have to repay some PUA benefits and then be left on lower-paying benefits. 

“It was a battle for us because we appreciate what Congress did to give us the opportunity,” he said. “But the more we looked at it, the more detrimental it was to claimants. … We did try to look at what’s the greatest group that is helped by doing it this way.”

More unemployment stories:

→ A lot more details were shared about unemployment. I’ll try to update those over the weekend as my time permits. Check back!

UPDATED Jan. 23: For those with “integrity” issues on their accounts, that means your account was flagged for fraud. Such users must use the ID.me app to verify themselves (mentioned last week) . A few other things to know:

  • CDLE will send you the ID.me link to register. Don’t go to the company’s site.
  • A pilot test earlier in the week reached out to 500 people. Only 138 verified themselves, while the rest did not complete the process.
  • If you don’t complete verification, you won’t get your benefits.
  • CDLE said it sent out links to 2,000 people on Jan. 22, so keep an eye out in your inbox or spam folder.
  • The ID verification will ramp up quickly to reach out to everyone to everyone with a fraud hold.

Speaking of fraud, if your ID was fraudulently used to file for unemployment, fill out THIS FORM to let the state know, fill out THIS FORM if you received a 1099 tax form for benefits that you shouldn’t have. CDLE said it is now planning to confirm receipt of filed reports. CDLE is also mailing out 1099 corrected forms starting in February to victims.

Step right up and get yer PPP

Two weeks into the revamped Paycheck Protection Program and there’s still money left. 

Last spring when banks first opened for these forgivable loans, the program ran out of money in less than two weeks.

That’s because Congress prioritized actual small businesses this time, letting only smaller lenders and community lenders specializing in underserved communities participate in the first week. Some 60,000 small businesses have applied for roughly $5 billion, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is overseeing the program.

That averages to $83,333.33 per loan. 

By-state data isn’t available yet, but local community lender Colorado Enterprise Fund said that in its first seven days, the volume was 90% of what the organization processed in PPPs last year.

“To say there is interest/demand is an understatement,” Nim Patel, chief strategy officer for the nonprofit Colorado Enterprise Fund, said in an email. “Many view the (second PPP loan) as the lifeline that is going to get them through the Colorado winter and into the spring and summer, where outdoor activities will bring a much needed bump back to their business.”  

Expect the numbers to surge since larger lenders were allowed to start accepting loans on Tuesday. 

If you need a PPP loan, talk to your bank or a community development financial institution, like Colorado Enterprise Fund. They work with small businesses that may not qualify for traditional loans. The application deadline is March 31 or until the $284 billion gets loaned out.

Got a question about the paycheck loan program? Ask it and I’ll try to get it answered in a future column.

 Did you apply for one of the 76,796 job openings?

In its press update each week, the Department of Labor has taken to sharing the most common job openings in ConnectingColorado.com, a database of job openings that are vetted somewhat by regional workforce centers. 

On Friday, there were 76,796 jobs available. 

Top jobs this week were for truck drivers, registered nurses and customer service representatives.

Now, 76,000 jobs sounds like a lot of jobs, especially since the number of people still unemployed was at 308,015 as of Jan. 2. 

Seems like there’s a big disconnect here.

Help me out folks: Have you tried applying for any of these jobs? Has anyone received a response, interview or … job offer? Let me know what your experience has been with ConnectingColorado. 

And employers who are hiring, what are you seeing? Hundreds of applicants? A good selection? I’d like to interview employers who are finding good candidates or can’t find anyone. Email me at tamara@coloradosun.com


It’s really incredible how much information shows up each week to stuff into this column. I guess that means What’s Working will continue indefinitely. Thanks for reading this week and if you aren’t getting this in your Saturday inbox, sign up for the newsletter here. Send your questions and complaints to me and remember, I’m an explainer, not someone who can fix your issue. But if I can, I will. See you next week! ~ tamara

Updated on Feb. 3, 2021: Now that the system has started to pay out, there are nuances in the phases I didn’t anticipate. Namely, PUA and PUEC users in Phase 1 can only collect past weeks if they had an eligible balance. Once a Phase 1 account is exhausted, it must wait for Phase 2. To stay up to date, read our latest unemployment stories HERE.


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

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