Feb 5, 2021 | NEWS | By Lily Weaver | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian

As of Dec. 31, Colorado’s national unemployment rank was 48 out of 50 at a rate of 8.4%, notably rising from November’s 6.4%. At least 170,000 people on unemployment saw their benefits disappear on Dec. 26 after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief programs ended.

On Dec. 27, former president Donald Trump signed a new relief plan, but it took multiple weeks for Colorado’s new computer system to pay out the new benefits to people experiencing unemployment. These include 11 weeks of extended benefits to those who used up their claims, plus an additional $300 per week for 11 weeks to anyone eligible for unemployment pay of at least $1 a week.

The new plan put Colorado in the same position as other states, but the delay was caused by the labor agency’s decision to launch an overhaul of its outdated computer system that was used during the Great Recession of 2008. The computer upgrade had been scheduled for last April but was postponed because of the pandemic. The upgrade took the unemployment system offline for five days and reopened it on Jan. 10, but only people on regular unemployment could request payment. Everyone who did not fall into this category had to wait because Colorado still needed to account for federal benefits.

Nearly two weeks ago, Colorado state officials said that the federal benefits would roll out in four phases, starting last Friday at the earliest. The first group included people on regular unemployment already making a weekly request for a benefit payment. These people should see the bonus of $300 automatically paid into their bank accounts. The first group also included people on pandemic relief who had not used up their benefits by Dec. 26. This group should get an email informing them that they can reopen their account to confirm their eligibility for the current week and past weeks back to Dec. 27, when the new relief plan was implemented. The second phase of the federal benefit rollout focuses on pandemic relief users who used up their benefits by Dec. 26.

The news comes almost a month after most unemployed Coloradans received their last checks. “People [are] getting angrier, more desperate, and we now have more than 6,100 in the group,” texted Erin Joy Swank, one of the moderators of a private Facebook group for Coloradans experiencing unemployment. Her frustration is echoed by many other members of the group, which has grown from 2,500 since early December.

On Thursday, Jan. 28, Colorado’s labor department started notifying the first out-of-work Coloradans by email that their federal unemployment benefits would start soon. While short-term relief is around the corner for many unemployed Coloradans, their economic futures are still unclear. Economic instability amid the pandemic is often a matter of life or death due to lack of access to adequate healthcare and insurance.

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