More than $254 million has been paid to 135,000 jobless Colorado contract and payroll workers since Saturday, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said Tuesday.
The agency started processing new claims Saturday under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs that resumed under stimulus legislation enacted in December. The PUA program pays benefits to self-employed and contract workers who lost revenue or assignments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the PEUC program provides another 11 weeks of benefits for both contract and payroll workers.
The department resumed paying PUA benefits Jan. 30 to more than 38,000 contract workers who still had benefits remaining under earlier claims plus another 25,000 who had extended benefits remaining. The agency had to reprogram its new online unemployment benefits system to resume making payments under the two programs, which in being completed in phases to get payments out to the largest number of claimants first. No date has been set for the third phase of the rollout to pay benefits to workers who had both payroll and contract income.
Joe Barela, the department's executive director, said the agency has paid out $668 million in benefits to 248,000 claimants under the new cloud computing-based system that began operating Jan. 10, but he acknowledged thousands of claimants are having issues getting payments. The new system replaced an outdated mainframe computer system used for benefits paid to payroll workers and a new cloud-based system for contract workers launched last April.
Phil Spresshardt, the department's manager for unemployment insurance, said about 13,000 claimants didn't get back payments for the week of Dec. 27, but that issue was fixed Monday night. Two more issues involving identification and PEUC payments were expected to be fixed Tuesday night. The department has made a temporary fix for those who were excused from repaying excess benefit payments, but were mistakenly told by the new system that they still owed that money. A permanent fix is pending. Some fixes take up to two days to process, he said.
The department has expanded its contract call center for those with issues in signing up for the PUA program to 350 people and will add another 100 on Wednesday. Average wait times for callers ballooned from 50 minutes to 1½ hours Monday, when calls more than doubled from 8,530 to more than 19,000. The delays prompted callers to hang up and call again multiple times, resulting in more than 256,000 calls. That meant some callers got busy signals, Spresshardt said.
The agency is planning town halls next week for claimants to answer common questions on the PUA and other programs.