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3-week number of unemployment claims in Colorado exceeds total for 2019

The state department of labor says the $600 weekly payments that are part of the federal stimulus bill will be backdated once available.

DENVER — Over the past three weeks,127,393 initial claims for unemployment were filed in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE).

All of those claims were made between March 16 and April 3. By the end of this week, CDLE said they expected the number of claims to reach about 225,000.

The total number of claims for each of the full calendar years of 2017, 2018 and 2019 did not exceed 120,000, according to statistics from CDLE.

There's been a huge spike in demand for the benefits since COVID-19 was first reported in Colorado on March 5. In a little over a month, the number of cases skyrocketed to more 5,600 cases. There have been nearly 200 deaths related to COVID-19.

RELATED: Colorado coronavirus latest, April 9: 127,000+ unemployment claims filed in state

After it showed up in Colorado, a variety of measures were put in place by state and public health officials to slow its spread. 

All Denver restaurants and bars have been shuttered to indoor dining since March 17. The order was extended state-wide and eventually, Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) issued a stay-at-home public health order on March 26, which shuttered all non-essential businesses. At this time, it's set to expire on April 26.

Those closures have resulted in an unprecedented number of people seeking unemployment benefits.

RELATED: Since March 17, 60 Colorado businesses have reported more than 6,000 layoffs

According to CDLE, there were 46,065 initial unemployment claims filed the week ending April 4. 

Officials said they expect the state trust to take a hit with the uptick in claims, but said they fully expect to pay all claims.

"In the history of our unemployment insurance program, we have never failed to pay insurance benefits even when our state's trust fund has gone into the negative," said Cher Haavind with CDLE. "And we will continue to pay benefits now regardless of what happens with the state trust fund."

Due to the demand, CDLE had to implement changes that included people only being able to file on certain days based on the first letter of their last name.

Haavind said it was very important that people stick to those name requirements and also recommended using the Chrome internet browser when attempting to file a claim online.

RELATED: Filing for unemployment? Your last name determines when you can apply

They also made changes to how people can get access to a pin number that's needed in order to get into their account and request payment. Under the previous process, a pin was generated and then mail to the claimant. That manual process was no longer practical when claims surged and it created a backlog.

Now pins are being delivered either through email or phone calls, according to CDLE.

"Today, we have sent out over 44,000 pins from last Saturday to today by either outbound call or email, and we expect we will move through the amount of pins that need to be issued by this weekend," Haavind said.

She also said they doubled staff for the call center and within the last two days updated their website to include a button to request a pin. You can find it by clicking the link below and scrolling down to the yellow button.

> Click/tap here to go to the page to request a pin.

CDLE said they also made emergency rule-making changes to reflect the current circumstances. For example, it's typically a requirement that applicants are looking for a new job, but now the assumption is that most workers are still attached to their current job (their status is temporary due to the stay-at-home order).

Top 5 industries with highest claims (for the week ending March 21st)

  • Accommodation and food services: 12,411
  • Healthcare and social service: 2,560
  • Other services:1,672
  • Arts, entertainment and recreation: 1,415
  • Retail trade: 1,014

During a phone conference, CDLE explained that healthcare workers applying for the benefits included those in dental offices, eye care offices and chiropractors (which were deemed non-essential under the stay-at-home order).

CDLE said more than 60,000 payment requests were made since March 16 and that the benefits paid for the week ending April 4 totaled $29.4 million. The average weekly payment for benefits for the other prior weeks of 2020 was $8.7 million.

For comparison, CDLE said during the height of the Great Recession (2009-10), $19 million in benefits were paid out on an average weekly basis. $102.8 million in benefits were paid out in May 2009, the highest monthly total on record.

CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) Update

There are several provisions within the recently passed CARES Act ( federal stimulus bill) that provide enhanced or extended unemployment benefits for workers. All of these new benefits are paid for by the federal government. The Unemployment Insurance Division is currently reprogramming its systems to administer these new benefits. All eligible workers will receive these benefits backdated and will not lose out on any benefit amount to which they were entitled.

The federal benefits will be automatically added, and there's no need to apply separately.

“We are working as quickly as we can to get these benefits into the hands of people who are in need during these unpredictable and unprecedented times,” said Joe Barela, executive director of CDLE.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, is the program that will provide unemployment benefits, up to 39 weeks, to those not ordinarily eligible for them. This includes gig workers, individuals who are self-employed or contract employees, those who cannot telework while obeying a shelter order, and even those who have exhausted regular unemployment insurance benefits. It also includes workers who were directly impacted by COVID-19, such as needing to care for a child whose school is closed or a dependent who tested positive for COVID-19. The benefit is retroactive to Jan. 27, 2020.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, or FPUC, provides $600 per week to any individual eligible for any of the Unemployment Compensation programs. This benefit began on March 29, 2020. Those who are self-employed are also eligible for the benefit, CDLE said.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, provides for an additional 13 weeks of benefits beyond the standard maximum of 26 weeks for traditional (regular) unemployment benefits.  

Workers who believe they may be eligible for these benefits can begin gathering income statements and other documentation that might be required to file, but the CDLE is asking them to wait to file until the systems are ready to begin accepting claims.

They're working as fast as possible to program the updates into their computer system to make sure they can properly determine who is eligible and that they're properly paid. CDLE noted they just received guidelines from the federal government for these programs on Sunday of this week.

"We're also eager to get these benefits out," said Jeff Fitzgerald, with CDLE. "We're diving in and working around the clock to try and program these changes, stand this up, test it, make sure it works properly and we're eager once all that happens and we're comfortable with the system, we're eager to start processing as soon as we can."

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