DENVER – More than 67,000 more Coloradans filed initial unemployment claims last week and self-employed, gig workers and others eligible for federal unemployment under the CARES Act filed more than 50,000 claims, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said Thursday.
Over the past five weeks, 298,944 initial unemployment claims were filed in Colorado. Last week, 67,334 Coloradans filed initial claims – which was down from 104,217 the week prior.
Last week, the state paid out $74.1 million in unemployment benefits, compared to $62 million the week before and $29.8 million the week ending April 4. Prior to those three weeks, the state paid out an average of $8.7 million a week.
That already means the amount paid out by the state in April tops the record of $102.8 million in benefits that were paid out in May 2009, though those figures won’t be final until next month.
The CDLE says that it paid out an average of $19 million a week during the height of the Great Recession in 2009-10.
CDLE Senior Economist Ryan Gedney says officials estimate that the nearly 300,000 initial claims filed since mid-March would represent about 10% of the 3.1 million Coloradans who were employed before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Accommodation and food services accounted for the most claims paid out, followed by retail trade, health care and social service, arts, entertainment and recreation and other services.
And the CDLE released some demographic data that dates back to the week of April 4 showing the 16-34 age group accounted for 48% of claims since mid-March, compared to a 30% share for that age group last year.
Women also account for 55% of the filings, compared to a 40% share in 2019, Gedney said.
CDLE says PUA issues, payment error should be fixed
The CDLE launched its new application for gig workers and self-employed workers, as well as others not eligible for regular unemployment, on Monday, and held two town halls that officials said about 20,000 people attended. The CDLE said that since it launched, around 51,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims have been filed.
The department said it also started to pay the $600 a week in additional Pandemic Unemployment Compensation out to people who are on regular or PUA unemployment.
The CDLE said people who filed payment claims on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday of this week should start seeing their payments coming in today. The department said there was an error in transferring claims to the clearinghouse bank that had been cleared up as of this morning.
Jeff Fitzgerald, the CDLE’s director of the Unemployment Insurance Division, said the file was the largest the department has ever had to transfer to the clearinghouse bank.
CDLE Deputy Executive Director Cher Haavind said that the issue some people trying to file for PUA ran into, in which they were redirected to apply for regular benefits instead, and sometimes sent in a loop between the two, has since been fixed.
She and other CDLE officials said that loop was caused by the federal PUA requirement that you are eligible for regular unemployment if you had more than $2,500 in W-2 income over the last 18 months. Regular unemployment benefits must be exhausted before the PUA benefits can kick in for 1099 workers.
Fitzgerald said that about 20% of people who tried to file for PUA had both 1099 and W-2 wages and that the CDLE changed its messaging on its website to make the process clearer, in addition to fixing the loop issue.
Haavind said there was about $35 million in benefit payments to eligible claims filed within that system – money that comes from the U.S. Treasury Department.
She said that for people who are applying for payments through regular unemployment or for PUA, that signing up for direct deposit would be the “much quicker” way to receive payments compared to getting a debit card from a bank.
She also said that people should opt-in to the Experian fraud check to make sure that the claim can be processed faster.
Additionally, Haavind said the $600 a week in additional Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) payments for anyone on unemployment should have those benefits coming backdated to March 29, if applicable.
In total, she said, there are $200 million in PUC dollars going out to Coloradans this week.
Haavind said that the department had heard from some employers that employees could be choosing to stay on unemployment once Colorado begins to reopen businesses next week. If that happens, Haavind said, it could be considered a “refusal to work” for those employees. She said the CDLE was working on “educating the claimant community who might not understand the consequences.”
But she added that the department was working on guidance about whether an employee feels it’s unsafe to go back to work.
Nationwide, 26 million people have filed for unemployment since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Department of Labor said.
The department said it would be email people today about when their benefit payments would be coming.