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Colorado slowest in nation at paying unemployment benefits, federal data shows

Only 36% of new unemployment claims are processed within three weeks, the threshold the U.S. Department of Labor classifies as "timely."

DENVER — If you lose your job in Colorado, prepare for more bad news: your unemployment benefits are not likely to arrive anytime soon.

A 9NEWS analysis of Department of Labor (DOL) data showed only 35.7% of new unemployment claims in Colorado in December were processed within three weeks, which the department considers the threshold for "timely" disbursement of benefits. The sluggish processing speed has made Colorado the slowest in the nation, the data suggested. 

The next slowest state is Tennessee, which the DOL data said processed half of its December claims within the three-week threshold. In April 2020, as Colorado confronted more than 200,000 unemployment claims, it performed better than it is right now -- processing 95% of claims within three weeks, the data showed.  

"I think there’s something seriously wrong with the Colorado system," said Erika Lane, an executive assistant who lost her job in November and still has not received unemployment benefits. 

Lane said her family has been leaning on her husband's income, but the state's delay has put the squeeze on her budget and forced the family to forgo purchasing Christmas presents. 

"We basically had to cut back on everything we do," she said. "We run out of groceries a week before he gets paid so we have to kind of stretch things as best we can. It's scary."

A spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) said its unemployment insurance division is still facing an "immense" backlog from claims created during the pandemic and "we acknowledge that processing times for new claims continues to be unacceptably high."

The spokesperson blamed staffing shortages, hiring obstacles, training requirements and state law which requires the department to examine 18 months of a claimants employment history to determine their eligibility for benefits.

CDLE said it expects to be back within a normal processing time frame by the end of March. 

"I expected several weeks. I can give several weeks leeway when it comes to stuff like this. But three months? Not at all," Lane said. By her calculations, the state owes her $6,700 -- and counting. 

"You don't want to file for unemployment, you have to file for unemployment," she said. "So if you're already struggling and you have to go through this frustration, it's a real kick to the gut."


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