Colorado’s first-time unemployment claims filed last week fell 13.3% from the previous week to 12,151, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported Thursday.
Initial claims from payroll workers have fluctuated between nearly 11,000 and just over 14,000 since peaking at more than 25,000 in the week ended Jan. 2. That range is still higher than any week between mid-July and mid-November. Claims surged in late November as a spike in COVID-19 cases triggered tighter restrictions on businesses, including closing restaurants to indoor dining, that have since been relaxed.
The department also announced it will begin processing new claims from self-employed and contract, or “gig,” workers Saturday, earlier than expected.
The agency began paying benefits Feb. 1 to such workers, under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, who still had benefits remaining when the program ended Dec. 26. Congress has since extended the program through early March.
The department is shutting down its unemployment benefits computer system from 5:30 p.m. Friday through 3:30 a.m. Saturday to enable the new claims.
“We know the gap from when these benefits ran out Dec. 26 to now has been a hardship,” department Executive Director Joe Barela said during a news conference.
“We’re committed to make sure we’re doing all that’s possible to make sure the system is in compliance with all the (U.S. Department of Labor) rules and regulations required to enable us to pay claimants.”
The department also reported 184,755 people continued to received benefits under separate unemployment insurance programs for payroll and for contract workers.
The department hired 60 agents to handle calls, as well as adding 100 more for the third-party call center it has been using, expanding its staff to 600.
The agency also plans to post 50 new state call center positions to continue expanding it call center capacity, said Cher Haavind, the department’s deputy director and spokeswoman.
Officials also confirmed the department has received more than 1 million fraudulent claims totaling more than $100 million.
Haavind said the department has released 28,000 claims totaling $25 million that had been on hold for suspected fraud. More than 114,000 claimants verified their identity through the department’s new online system.
Fraudulent unemployment claims are a nationwide problem, with the state of Washington paying out $600 million in such claims before discovering the issue and halting payments.
Colorado’s unemployment rate was 8.4% in December.
The January rate won’t be released until March 15, when a major annual revision of unemployment and employment data is completed.