Colorado reopens its unemployment system after long-awaited computer upgrade

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment office in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood on March 21, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Nearly 30,000 out-of-work Coloradans requested an unemployment payment on the state’s upgraded computer system by Sunday evening after a long-awaited technology update was completed. As of Monday noon, more than 100,000 people had accessed the system with more than 43,00 completing their first payment request, the Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment announced.

The new system, called MyUI+, was only available to people on regular unemployment, or folks whose employers paid into the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

As expected, people who don’t qualify for regular employment but are eligible for federal benefits must wait at least another week — or even until early February — before the new computer system is programmed to correctly distribute more federal benefits for self-employed and gig worker relief, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC.

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

Cher Haavind, deputy director of the state Department of Labor and Employment, said that PUA and PEUC users won’t be able to request a new payment yet. If they try, their accounts will say “exhausted or all available weeks through (Dec. 26) have been paid,” she said.

The system, which began accepting payment requests at 6:30 a.m., also was not available to people filing a new claim or trying to reopen one. It was only available Sunday to those with active regular unemployment claims.

While the debut of the new system has been anticipated for weeks, there was still plenty of confusion among people on the federal programs. Many people tried to request payments on Sunday anyway.

“I patiently waited as the CDLE ‘rebuilt’ the system and was told that I could resume requesting payment this morning 1/10/2021,” said one person who was on extended benefits and had to move to PUA at the end of 2020. “However, I cannot request payment.”

Some users on PUA said they spent hours trying to log in and were eventually able to — but found their accounts “exhausted.” As Haavind said, this is merely a signal that the state has not yet completed reprogramming the benefits into the computer yet.

Again, the state department of labor is managing two computer updates: one to overhaul the entire system and next, one that reprograms federal benefits based on the new COVID relief package passed Dec. 27.

The overhaul was completed today, Jan. 10. But getting the system ready for the new federal benefits will still take more time and state officials said the latest date could be sometime in early February. The new federal package adds another 11 weeks to both the PUA and PEUC programs, picking up where the CARES Act ended on Dec. 26.

There’s also an extra $300 weekly payment for 11 weeks that anyone on unemployment will receive until March 13. Those who must wait until the state’s system is reprogrammed for the new federal benefits will be eligible for retroactive pay, just like what happened last year when the state opened up the system in mid-April to gig workers.

The Sunday launch of the new computer system has been years in the making. The state was in the middle of a planned technology upgrade scheduled for April when the pandemic hit. It put the overhaul on hold but had some of the system ready so it let PUA folks use it, while keeping those on regular unemployment on the old system.

The state labor department took the system offline for five days and moved everyone’s account to the new system. The more modern system will now be used by both PUA and regular unemployed workers. The update is expected to be faster and easier to use and allow for users to request an unemployment payment every week instead of every-other week.

Only those on regular unemployment could successfully login and request a payment. The process included submitting a social security number and requesting a password. Once a password is changed, the user can request payment in one of two ways:

1. From the navigation links on the left side of the page, click on Request Benefit Payment and then click on Start Weekly Certification.

2. From the Home Page dashboard, scroll to Pending Weekly Certifications and then click on Start Weekly Certification.

Haavind said that the department’s analytics showed some email service providers were experiencing delays in delivering the password resets. But that appeared to be due to the massive volume of password requests, so the email providers were throttling the emails for security reasons. The state said it is letting users know of the email delay.

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