DENVER – People who are in Phase 2 of the federal unemployment benefits rollout in Colorado should expect to be able to begin reopening their claims or filing new claims the week of Feb. 22, the state announced Sunday.
That group of people will include most of those who exhausted their Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims before the CARES Act expired on Dec. 26, as well as people who are newly eligible to file PUA or PEUC claims.
The PUA program is generally used by people who are self-employed, gig workers, or private contractors, while the PEUC program provided extended benefits to people who had lost their job because of COVID-19 and exhausted the other state or federal benefits available to them.
The news from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment on Sunday came three days after CDLE officials said they were unsure when Phase 2 would begin to roll out and that they hoped to be ready for the rollout by the end of the month.
That information was met with disbelief from many people who are still waiting for the benefits in order to pay for rent, food and other bills — some of whom have waited more than two months since their last benefits expired. Some people protested the wait times in front of the department’s offices on Monday.
“At this point, there’s no urgency on their end. They give us a date and they’re like, ‘OK, deal with it,’” said Melissa Hickey, one of a couple dozen people who attended the protest Monday.
She exhausted her federal unemployment benefits and is still waiting for Phase 2 to begin so she can reopen her claim.
“People are still panicking at this point, because by the time everything opens up on Feb. 22, it’s still going to be a few days until that hits their bank accounts,” Hickey said. “…People are very frustrated and very scared.”
"You tell me that these people would wait five weeks for a paycheck," said Kimberly Rubio, who also protested outside of the CDLE offi es Monday. "[The department is] not coming through with the money we need"
The CDLE officials last week also worked to explain some of the issues that people were having with MyUI+ during the Phase 1 rollout.
CDLE Executive Director Joe Barela said in a statement Sunday that the department knows that “many Coloradans are facing extreme economic hardships right now, and have been anxiously waiting for the ability to apply for these added benefits.”
“The phased-in rollout of the program has been frustrating for many, however, our priority has been to get benefits in the hands of the most eligible claimants we could feasibly reach at one time,” Barela added. “We may have some kinks to workout [sic], but our new, modernized cloud-based system will allow for much speedier implementation of future pandemic assistance legislation that we expect to come from the new administration.
The slow rollout of the federal extended unemployment benefits in the Continued Assistance Act, which Congress passed the day after the CARES Act expired, has been the product of the CDLE’s upgrading its unemployment insurance system, which was originally planned for last April, as well as the need to implement new guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on changes to the programs under the latest package compared to the CARES Act.
Under the new program, PUA and PEUC were extended for up to 11 weeks, through the week of March 13 for people who are eligible. The CDLE has said that it will backpay benefits to people for the weeks they are eligible in Phase 2 to make them whole.
Last week, around 230,000 people eligible under Phase 1 of the rollout – people who had not exhausted their PUA or PEUC benefits by Dec. 26 – were able to start reopening their claims. The $300 a week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefit also was paid out to those people.
The CDLE said Monday it had paid out more than $166 million in benefits to more than 104,000 people in Phase 1 so far.
The FPUC benefit will also be available to people in Phase 2 of the rollout through March 13, per the Continued Assistance Act.
The CDLE said it will notify people eligible to reopen their claims in Phase 2 “in the coming weeks” about the next steps they should take. The department is also launching a campaign to try to connect people who are unemployed or underemployed with thousands of jobs in the state jobs database.
More information about phases that will follow Phase 2 is expected in coming weeks. That next phase will include the rollout of a new program, the Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) program, which provides $100 a week to people on regular state unemployment who also have lost self-employment income, as well as programs for people with more complex claim types, the department said.