DENVER — The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) said on Tuesday that it has paid out $254 million in Phase Two federal unemployment benefits in the past four days.
The rollout of Phase Two benefits on Saturday morning allowed claimants who had previously exhausted federal benefits from before Dec. 26 to file for resumed benefits. As of Tuesday, CDLE reported that $254 million in benefits had been paid out to 135,000 claimants since the rollout began.
About 289,000 claimants who might be eligible for Phase Two were emailed instructions for resuming benefits last week, CDLE said.
Officials said that 135,000 is roughly on the high end of claimants they expected would apply in a single week. CDLE said it didn't expect a lot of the 289,000 potential claimants to respond because of various factors including finding employment, moving to a different state or exhausting their remaining benefits.
"They deposited exactly my weekly benefit amount times eight weeks, and exactly $300 in bonuses times eight weeks, which is going straight to the bank, believe me, because I don't know when there's going to be another round of assistance," said Adrian Miller, who's been waiting for unemployment since Dec. 27.
Miller is a preschool music teacher who has been limited in teaching her four-year-olds because of the COVID-19 color dial which restricts capacity depending on what color each county is listed.
"I was able to reduce my monthly business expenses by 50%, but I still trickled a loss every month," said Miller.
She was able to sign onto the state's MyUI+ website on Saturday and successfully request almost eight weeks' worth of payment.
"I was paid, to the penny, exactly what I was owed from January 2 until now," said Miller. "Some people really need some hope, and I think it's important for people to hear that some people are getting paid."
There have been technological issues that were preventing payments to about 13,000 individuals, CDLE said. Those included:
- Missing payments for the week of Dec. 27.
- Issues with out-of-state identification.
- Available Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) payments being denied on some claims.
- Ineligible standard Unemployment Insurance claims still showing as the claim available to individuals, therefore not allowing them to to reopen PEUC or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claim.
- Claimants not getting paid all of the backpay they are eligible for.
The department has already fixed some issues listed above or has fixes ready for deployment. CDLE is targeting Thursday, Feb. 25, for many on the remaining fixes needed.
CDLE also said that more fraud holds will happen as benefits are rolled out to more eligible claimants and said that 22,800 new ID.me referrals have been sent to potential claimants to remove the holds since Phase Two rollout.
All claims that are reopened will either backdate to Dec. 27 or to the last week a claimant received payment if their benefits resumed during Phase One.
Virtual Job Fair
CDLE is hosting a virtual job fair on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
There is a special hour from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. for military veterans.
"We have employers from Amazon, Centura Health and Natural Grocers to name a few that are on there," said CDLE executive director Joe Barela. "There are over 10,000 jobs listed on our job boards in sales, and food preparation, service-related jobs, just under 3,000 are there."
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Unemployment fraud and 1099 forms
Some Coloradans were receiving tax documents related to unemployment benefits even though they never filed for or received any benefits in the past year, CDLE said.
Normally, 1099-G forms are sent out to claimants to detail the amount of benefits that have been paid during a given tax year so that they can be reported as income. If you received one and didn't receive unemployment, you might be a victim of identity theft, according to CDLE.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, CDLE has placed fraud holds on about a million claims.
Since the new My UI system was rolled out in January, just under 800,000 fraud holds have been placed. CDLE said it has been working through removing holds for legitimate claims, especially when the claimant contacts the department.
CDLE estimated that it has paid out about $6 million in fraudulent claims and prevented $7 billion in fraudulent payments since mid-March 2020.
Preparing for another gap in payments
CDLE continues to warn that another gap in unemployment payments could be coming if Congress does not act soon enough.
The reason for the most recent gap was a mixture of Congress passing new unemployment benefits on Dec. 21, when the benefits were set to expire on Dec. 26. Then-President Trump did not sign the bill into law until Dec. 27. Colorado could not issue any payments until it received rules from the U.S. Department of Labor, which took until Jan. 8. Programming the state's new unemployment website for the first phase of unemployment payments took until Jan. 30. The state was not ready for Phase Two until Feb. 20. Phase Two included people who had exhausted their benefits prior to Dec. 26.
"For this individuals who have been waiting the longest until we were able to roll them out here in Phase Two, they are most at risk of a gap if Congress doesn't get something accomplished well ahead of that March 13 date," said acting unemployment insurance director Phil Spesshardt. "If you do the math, individuals who were most in need of benefits this last time will be the ones who would pay a price for Congress' inaction again, this go around."
The state does not have funds to make up for any inaction by the federal government. Colorado's unemployment fund is already $823 million in the negative, and will eventually need to be replenished through fees paid by employers.
"Short of getting a stimulus at the federal level coming to support these programs, I don't see any action being able to happen," said Barela.
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