DENVER – Colorado’s unemployment benefits system is going dark for several days starting Tuesday as the state upgrades its software programs, changes which were originally planned for last spring.
Starting at noon Tuesday, people can expect most of the MyUI systems to be down for the next few days as they upgrade the outdated systems, which the state is hopeful will streamline many of the unemployment insurance processes, including the current claimant system, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system, the phone line for requesting payment (CUBline) and virtual assistant.
Officials from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said in a call with reporters Tuesday morning that they hope to bring the system back online by Saturday or Sunday at the latest so people can begin requesting payments again before Monday.
The CDLE started sending messages to people receiving regular unemployment benefits last week to file their requests for benefits early, prior to the upgrades, after discussing the planned upgrades last month. But the department said that some people receiving federal benefits also got the email even though they were not supposed to and should take no action.
After the upgrades are complete, the new system will be called MyUI+, and people receiving any type of unemployment will have to request payments weekly. With the previous system, regular unemployment recipients had to request payment every two weeks, while PUA recipients had to request payment every week.
People who have been using the existing MyUI system will use the same email to log in but will have to create a new password if on regular unemployment, while PUA recipients will use the same email and password. New users will have to create a new account, the CDLE said on its new MyUI+ web page.
CDLE officials said the “modernization” of the systems would streamline the process and make regular and PUA unemployment applications and requests for payment more intuitive, but asked for patience with the upgrade and outage, saying it was a major undertaking.
The upgrades will also speed up the process for implementing new changes to unemployment insurance, including the recently passed extensions for some federal unemployment benefit programs and more that are likely to happen in the future, officials said.
The CDLE is working with the governor’s office of information technology and Deloitte to implement the upgrade. Cher Roybal Haavind, the deputy executive director of the CDLE, said the group has already done “significant” testing and modeling of the upgrade and that there was a rollback strategy if they ran into issues.
Haavind said the department was adding staff to its third-party call center to handle the influx of calls when the new system comes online this weekend and would be sending emails and updating its website on the update’s progress.
Phil Spesshardt, the benefits services branch manager for the CDLE, said the upgrades to the virtual assistant and site overall should help cut down on the number of people who need in-person help with their claim or payment.
Update on federal unemployment benefits
Part of the reason that people receiving PUA or PEUC benefits were told not to try to file a claim this week before the systems went down is because Colorado is still waiting for the full guidance for the U.S. Department of Labor on exactly what new changes need to be programmed into the system from the latest stimulus package passed by U.S. lawmakers late last month, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
Joe Barela, the executive director of the CDLE, said the department had received three of five expected guidance materials it needs from the USDOL to start the reprogramming process, which he believes should take less time than it did this spring because of the upgrades.
Officials said in December they expected to have some of the reprogramming done and ready to roll out by late this month or early next month – a timeline they said Tuesday they were hopeful of sticking to.
PUA and PEUC benefits will run through March 13 for the moment and will be backdated to Dec. 27 once they become available again through the reprogrammed system, but Barela reiterated that people receiving those types of unemployment benefits would see a pause until the systems are reprogrammed.
The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which this time around will provide $300 a week to anyone receiving unemployment benefits for the period between Dec. 27 and March 13, will likely be the first to come online after the reprogramming, as the state will simply have to modify the amount from $600 to $300 in the system, CDLE officials said.
Update on fraud
There will be a new identity verification requirement within the PUA system to help combat the massive amount of fraud it has seen nationwide this year, Haavind said, but officials are still awaiting details on exactly what those changes will be.
As Denver7 reported Monday, fraudsters started to attack the state’s regular unemployment system in December, which ramped up over the past week or so when PUA expired. Haavind said the fraudsters simply moved from the PUA system to the regular system and were targeting every state.
The fraud often is noticed in the form of ReliaCards from U.S. Bank, and victims are often found by fraudsters through purchased identity theft information or other websites. CDLE officials said homeowners or property managers of vacant homes should check the mailboxes often to see if ReliaCards are showing up there, as investigators have seen vacant addresses used for fraud as well.
Spesshardt said the CDLE was seeing some fraudulent claims in the regular system about aa month to six weeks after they were made in the PUA system and that officials were working to find fraudulent cases and closing them down before payments can go out.
The CDLE said it would continue to send out messages about the outage and updates on reprogramming for federal benefits in the coming days and weeks.