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Colorado Prepares to Launch New Unemployment System

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment shut down its unemployment benefits systems as it began moving more than 1.5 million claims over to a newer, modernized platform set to launch this weekend.

by Joe Rubino, The Denver Post / January 7, 2020
Colorado State Capitol / Credit: Colorado State Government

(TNS) — It's a pivotal week for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who are relying on unemployment benefits to get by during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday afternoon, the state shut down its unemployment benefits systems as it began moving more than 1.5 million claims over to a newer, modernized platform set to launch this weekend.

More secure, easier to use and more efficient than its much-maligned predecessor, state officials say, the new system is expected to be activated on Sunday in time for thousands of people to log on and request payments for the prior week.

CDLE deputy executive director  Cher Haavind  was optimistic that by working with the state's technology vendor for the project, Deloitte, and the Governor's Office of Information Technology, the department would be able to stand up the program successfully this weekend.

"We have done significant testing and modeling and daily updates with the vendor on the status of the program and the initiative to go live," Haavind said.

But contingency plans are also in place, Haavind said, and hundreds of workers are being added to the labor department call center dedicated to serving people accessing the new system.

The launch caps an effort that dates back years. In early December,  Joe Barela , the labor department's executive director, said the pandemic had exposed that the state's unemployment systems were "put together with duct tape and chicken wire" when the state went from record-low unemployment in February to a record number of new claims in March and April with numerous glitches, system failures and customer service disasters along the way.

The system going live this weekend — dubbed MyUI+ — was originally slated to launch in April but the labor department pivoted to use it for the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program set up to serve gig workers, contractors and the self-employed. Now all claims will be handled through the same portal and all people collecting unemployment will be required to request payments once a week instead of some requesting every other week as required under the now-deactivated system.

"(The new program) will bring more flexibility, agility and cloud-based systems to the claimant side of the unemployment insurance program," Barela said Tuesday.

One immediate benefit of the new system is state officials expect it to be much easier and faster to reprogram under new federal guidelines. In the aftermath of President  Donald Trump  signing the $900 billion pandemic stimulus on Dec. 27, the labor department has received some but not all of the federal guidance it needs to relaunch the PUA program and other federal unemployment support authorized through the bill.

The timeline for when those programs will become available to Coloradans — PUA and federal extended benefits have been shut off since Dec. 26 — remains murky but the labor department last week released the first few details of what people can expect.

— The PUA program has been extended by 11 weeks, giving claimants up to 50 weeks of support through March 13

— Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation has also been extended by 11 weeks, given people access to up to 24 weeks of benefits through March 13

— The new Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program will provide $300 in extra unemployment support for up to 11 weeks before it also expires on March 13.

State labor officials expect the $300 boost payments to be the first new feature to be set up once the U.S. Department of Labor provides final guidance. People on unemployment will be contacted via email and a call campaign with further information.

The state processed nearly 1 million unemployment claims between mid March and the end of 2020.

(c)2021 The Denver Post. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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