President Joe Biden’s signature on the American Rescue Plan Act on Thursday spurred the state’s Department of Labor and Employment into action so out-of-work Coloradans see no delay in receiving federal jobless benefits.
In anticipation of the bill’s passage, the state labor department planned to take the unemployment system offline Friday night to prepare it to pay out federal pandemic benefits through Labor Day.
As a result, users should not see a payment lapse as they did in December after the last federal relief package passed. That delay was due to changes in federal jobless programs that took two months for the state to update its system in order to pay people making unemployment claims.
“They heard us,” Joe Barela, executive director of the Department of Labor, said during a news conference on Thursday morning. “(Congress) put in legislation that just extends these programs rather than overlaying new requirements and new eligibility on top of existing programs.”
As of Feb. 27, there were 207,686 Coloradans still receiving unemployment. About 150,000 of those faced the loss of pandemic benefits this weekend because the Continued Assistance Act passed in December ends March 14.
Most of these folks had already waited eight weeks for benefits to return as part of the December relief package. The state labor department didn’t want a delay to happen again.
This time, Barela said, the state agency asked the federal labor department if it could continue paying benefits after March 14 before receiving new federal guidance. If changes were required, the reprogramming would occur later. That request was approved.
“We know that this (delay earlier this year) caused a lot of hardship in Colorado and we wanted to avoid that this time around,” Barela said.
Coloradans making a weekly request for a payment next week will continue as normal, said Phil Spesshardt, acting director of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Division. Users should not be hit with an “exhausted” claim tag, as some experienced last month.
“The vast majority of individuals will have those funds added to their claims in time to complete their weekly certification for the week ending March 20, which they would do on March 21,” Spesshardt said.
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The American Rescue Plan extends pandemic unemployment benefits to Sept. 6 and also provides a $300 supplement per week.
There is nothing in the new law to extend the weeks beyond Sept. 6, regardless of whether a person still has weeks available, Spesshardt added.
But one group that will be impacted are those who were collecting unemployment before the pandemic began in March 2020, or were allowed to backdate their COVID jobless claim to Feb. 2. Those people may have used up all their benefits by now and could see a gap in federal aid this month, Spesshardt said.
Spesshardt still expects some testing to be done before the system is ready. The agency will take the unemployment system offline at 7 p.m. Friday and bring it back by 3 a.m. Saturday.