DENVER – Coloradans who are eligible for extended federal unemployment benefits under the CARES Act can start applying for those benefits starting Monday, the state Department of Labor and Employment announced Friday.
The long-awaited system will allow self-employed workers, independent contractors and so-called “gig workers” to apply for unemployment benefits. It will also extend an additional 13 weeks of federal benefits to workers who exhaust their 26 weeks or regular benefits and $600 a week to anyone receiving benefits of any kind.
“Colorado’s Unemployment Insurance program - like all UI programs across the country - has been under unprecedented strain for the last month,” said CDLE Executive Director Joe Barela.
CDLE officials said about 100 employees had been working for weeks to stand up the new system and that Colorado is among the first states to accept applications and pay benefits from CARES Act provisions.
The portal for the federal benefits will be on the state’s unemployment website – ColoradoUI.gov – and will guide people through the filling and claims process.
In addition to the self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers, some other groups could be eligible for the additional federal benefits, including people who can’t telecommute and have to care for a child because their school is closed, and people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and cannot work because they are isolated.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will be retroactive to Feb. 2 if people can prove there are eligible for benefits from the past few weeks. The $600 a week benefit will be retroactive to March 29 and runs through July 25.
CDLE officials said that once someone has submitted their initial claim, it will take about 24 hours for the state’s system to certify them as eligible for the benefits. The subsequent day, people will be able to go into the system to request payment for weeks they are eligible.
PINs will be distributed through email. And within a few business days of the payment request, according to the CDLE, the benefits would either be direct deposited into a person’s bank account or delivered via a debit card, with direct deposit having the fastest turnaround.
People will not be able to request payments for benefits of the current week.
The state is also outsourcing a new call center specifically for people who have questions about CARES Act provisions and benefits. The state says an additional 80 people will staff the overflow center to alleviate pressure on the regular unemployment call center.
And the CDLE said it would be reaching out Friday to people who have unsuccessfully called the call center in recent days to invite them to town hall meetings the department is hosting Monday – at 9:15 a.m. for English speakers and 11:30 a.m. for Spanish speakers – to discuss the new provisions.
The 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits will be paid out through the state trust fund. All benefits paid out under the CARES Act – including the pandemic assistance for the new group of workers, 13 additional weeks, and $600 benefits – are federally financed.
CDLE officials estimated Friday the state trust fund was around $950 million earlier this week and they anticipate paying out $50 million a week in benefits in coming weeks. But they also expect around $250-$300 million to be added back to the fund by employers in the second quarter.
Should the fund run out of money, the state would, as it did during the Great Recession, borrow from the federal government on a needed basis and pay the money back.
The state’s unemployment rate rose to 4.5% in March – the highest since 2015 – the CDLE reported Friday. Over the past four weeks, more than 231,000 Coloradans have filed initial unemployment claims. CDLE Senior Economist Ryan Gedney said once the system is online, it will be eye-opening to see the number of gig and self-employed workers who have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The state doesn’t currently have data on the number of workers eligible for the new federal benefits but is estimating there could be around 370,000 total.
For more information, head over to the Colorado unemployment website.