Which (Colorado) Unemployment am I in, and What’s My Next Option?

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UPDATE December 28, 2020: The second round of pandemic stimulus bills has been signed BUT the Colorado Department of Labor has not issued guidance on next steps for that at this point - they don't have guidance yet from the federal level either. Here's CDLE's own "We Don't Know Yet" press release! As a result, no spectulation is included here about what the next steps are.

UPDATE January 3, 2021 - there was a major set of miscommunications from CDLE recently. Short version - if you have already applied for any pandemic unemployment (SEB, PEUC, PUA) through the week ending 12/26, then your next step is to WAIT to get into the updated MYUI+ system, registering January 10th. Here's an article that spurred today's "oops you got a wrong email" message for many people this evening. Colorado’s unemployment system slammed after email about jobless benefits is erroneously sent to many who are ineligible - Tamara Chuang, Colorado Sun

I've been meaning to write some blog posts updating on the latest news in Colorado unemployment, but frankly, some of it is changing every day. We're waiting for Congress to decide if there will be any federal extensions past December 25 or 26 (depending on your state), and Colorado is waiting to hear if State Extended Benefits will trigger back on. That said, I'm frankly surprised many people don't know WHICH part of unemployment they are in. Let me try to summarize it for you.

First off, any time you do anything online for your unemployment - filing for each new claim or extension AND your weekly/bi-weekly requests for payment, I highly advise you to take a screenshot or print-to-PDF as much as you can. The answers can often be found in the wording of those. In the meantime, here's how to figure out your program if you're in Colorado...

Which unemployment system am I in?

Screenshot of Colorado's PUA login screen
A screenshot of the PUA login

If you log in through a website with "PUA" in the address, you're in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This is the only option that gig workers with mostly 1099 employment were able to file. It's also a last-ditch option for those whose SEB has expired (more on that later). As of this writing, there are no extensions for PUA, and you cannot start a new claim until a year has passed from your first filing. See the updates section below for the latest in news from Congress to extend this program. For a quick answer to "How come the other programs get extensions and we don't?," usually 1099 workers can't get ANY unemployment, as W2 employers have paid the unemployment taxes that fund regular unemployment. Getting 39 weeks in 2020 was already a blessing, and while many are struggling and would like more, it's already a big expenditure. The other systems do have a bit more funding behind them. (And if those people then join PUA, it's because they haven't reached 39 weeks yet in the accounting system.) I'm sorry for this answer for you.

Screenshot of the home screen for Colorado Unemployment's Online System
Screenshot from my home page when I log in for my unemployment benefits - well, before SEB was triggered off, that is....now it says "POSTPONED" instead of "APPROVED."

If you log in through a website with "MYUI" in the address, you're in one of the other programs. (UI, PEUC, SEB)

When you first join "regular" unemployment, you are in Unemployment Insurance (UI).

When that claim reaches $0 and says "Exhausted" - and not before - you can file for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Do so by clicking on "Returning Claimant" on the left side. As you file, note the effective start date of the claim. Compare this to the last "week ending" date that you were last paid for. If there is a gap, once you've finished go back to the same webpage and scroll down to the "Request Backdate" option. Do note that they are WAY behind in sending these out. We have a callback appointment for my husband scheduled to find out what's been holding up his for more than two months. Here's more info directly from the CDLE website.

If you are successfully in the PEUC program, you can verify this by clicking on the "My Benefits" tab. Here, your claim will now say, "Program: Emergency Unemployment Compensation." HOWEVER, this wording does not change if you have moved to the next extension, State Extended Benefits (SEB).

State Extended Benefits (SEB) are not something you can file for in Colorado, but they review your account and tell you if you are eligible. However, in Colorado, our SEB was triggered "off" when the unemployment rate dipped below 5% in November. This was based on a faulty calculation rate, which did not include any of us (including my husband and I) who were on PUA, PEUC or SEB. Of course the rate would lower if so many of us are moving to the extensions! Colorado has requested to have our rate calcuation changed, but we're waiting to see if the Department of Labor will accept this and/or waiting 13 weeks to see if it will get triggered back on again (this time using the adjusted rate). Here is an article explaining this debaucle, as well as the next item I'll tell you about. In the meantime, you can verify that you're on SEB two ways. If your account says "Postponed" at the top, that's likely for SEB, though a few have also received that wording when on PEUC. Additionally, go to the "Issues and Appeals" tab. In my account there is an "Emergency-Unemployment-Compensation Review" document dated 11/27, which tells me that SEB has been triggered off.

For those who have exhausted UI, PEUC, and SEB (or never had a chance for SEB), for a few remaining weeks of 2020, you may be able to file for PUA. The article I linked above explains why, but essentially it's about whether you've claimed 39 weeks yet - and your PEUC weeks don't count in it. I've been told that some people can get through immediately, and others have had to wait a week after their last SEB payment, so that an error message isn't triggered. I only filed for my last SEB week yesterday - filing every two weeks, this was the first chance since 11/28 - so am waiting for them to tell me that I don't get payment for the second week of my claim before I can move on. Here's more info directly from the CDLE website, including how to file for PUA.

[UPDATE 12/13] Many are getting this error message that they are ineligible for PUA from PEUC/SEB. There is a known glitch that is sometimes taking a week or so for the system to clear for people moving from PEUC/SEB to PUA after their last payment. Keep trying.

Eligibility error when applying for PUA because there is still an active UI claim
This ineligibility notice pops up for some after SEB.

Screenshot of an email from Daniel Chase, Chief of Staff for Colorado's Department of Labor
Screenshot regarding an error message received after filing for PUA from SEB (click to enlarge)

[UPDATE 12/8] Note, some are reporting a denial message after filing for PUA that looks like they won't receive PUA, but the wording may be hard to follow. Check out this image (to the right) that's been floating around on Facebook. Some of the identifying info had been covered, but I covered the person's name, too. In it, Daniel Chase, Chief of Staff of Colorado's CDLE, says "Your claim is disallowed effective 3/14/2021. While the messaging is confusing, this should not impact your ability to collect from PUA at this time. The disallow date is what impacts your claim and it is not until next year. I am looking into the messages themselves, but your claim should be fine for now."

Make sure you wait until your last SEB payment (for week ending 11/28) has processed before filing, at the very minimum. Some are recommending to wait a full week, to avoid this message or similar.

UPDATE 12/13: Daniel Chase, the Chief of Staff of Colorado Department of Labor & Employment recommended during a Michael Bennett Town Hall that you request payment in BOTH systems, even though it sounds weird. Requestly weekly (and it's ONLY on Sundays, unlike your old system) in PUA to get money through the week ending 12/26. Continue to request every two weeks in MYUI - expecting no $0 - to keep your claim open. If new legislation should open up, reduce yourself to only claiming in one. The reason for this is because if nothing changes, after the 12/26 week, and your PUA claim stops, there's no way to stay active in the system. If you stay active in the MYUI system, and state extended benefits comes back, or some other legislation, you'd still be active and much more set to get any money as quickly as possible. (I mention this below, but I'm copying it here to make sure people see it.)

What's Next?

In Colorado, we're waiting to hear if the federal Department of Labor will let us reinstate State Extended Benefits. Here are articles on that:

Either the DOL says yes and it's enacted sooner, or we wait for 13 weeks to pass from when it was triggered off to see if we can get back on. That magic date would be sometime in February. In the meantime, file for PUA (see above) for something to get through to December 26.

Meanwhile, we're at the edge of a major unemployment cliff right now, if the CARES Act options are allowed to expire nationwide. We were hoping for negotiations to be made before the government shut down that could happen if decisions aren't made by December 11th. Today they announced that Congress may pass a one-week extension so they can negotiate through December 18th. It's likely going to be a dismal Christmas for many, as I can only imagine that whatever they decide will NOT come flooding through our accounts as money in any quick fashion. Also, until we see the actual wording, and know what they've negotiated, there's no telling exactly how much would be given to unemployed people each week, how long it would last, or if it includes PUA. The original $908 billion bi-partisan proposal is reportedly [italics are the words from this linked article]:

Under the bipartisan plan, Americans on unemployment would receive $300 per week from the federal government on top of their existing state unemployment benefits, assuming those have not been exhausted. [No, we don't know what this means for those who HAVE been exhausted either. If someone can find the actual words of the $908 billion proposal online, please let me know.]

One significant outstanding question facing lawmakers is whether the unemployment benefits will be made retroactive to cover prior months when jobless benefits were not being paid. The unemployment benefit in the bipartisan plan would cover at least from December through March, but lawmakers have not decided whether it would compensate for lost benefits from the fall. 

The plan is also expected in coming days to include an extension in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for the self-employed and gig workers not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits, as well as an extension in base benefits. Both are expected to be extended through March. [Note, I've also read that Mitch McConnell has counter-proposed with a version that would only offer ONE month. When I find that source again, I'll link it here.]

UPDATE 12/11 - Daniel Chase, Chief of Staff, CDLE confirmed what I've been recommending, that everyone keep requesting payment - expecting $0 - to remain active system, on the chance that things get cleared up. Mr. Chase said that because they are SEPARATE systems, you can request money in PUA, which at this point will last until 12/26/2020 OR your funds run out, whichever is first. At the same time, you can continue to "request payment" in the MYUI system, expecting $0, so that you can keep the claim active. (This has indeed been possible for me in the past in the UI system, like when I was waiting for my PEUC claim to be accepted - filing in multiple states is ALWAYS fun...) Should new legislation be enacted, you'd be up to date in the system. At that point, however, you should only request payment in ONE system. However, I have learned it is NOT possible to continue claiming in the PUA system. There doesn't appear to be an option for those only in that one.

...So, we'll see what happens in the next few weeks is all I can say. Yeah, it sucks. Also, from all of my past experience, you cannot file a NEW claim (like another round of the same unemployment) until you've been in the system for a full year. This is how the system has been for years, and is why you have "claim effective" dates. You can only collect unemployment until either your maximum benefit dries up OR you hit an expiration date - whichever comes first. For regular claims it's a year. For PEUC/PUA, it's currently December 26, and SEB is at least temporarily triggered off already.

Colorado Artists Stimulus

If you are a Coloradan who works in the visual or performing arts, the latest legislation also created a stimulus for us specifically. According to reporter John Moore (a GREAT friend of the arts, who I nominated for the Lucy Jordan Humanitarian award he was given by Actors' Equity Association), "The $37 million small-business stimulus approved by the CO state Legislature on Wednesday includes $7.5 million for eligible indiviual artists & cultural venues....divided into two separate funds. One will target individual artists who can prove lost income opportunities in music, live theater, film, TV, dance or visual arts.....Exact eligibility requirements will be hammered out over the next few days. Hunt hopes to have online application forms posted by Dec. 11."

More Resources

Though appointments fill up FAST, try scheduling a callback appointment in the Virtual Assistant of the main Colorado Unemployment website. A blue box will pop up, and you can type in the word "callback" or any other question you have. These sporadically are available again, so keep trying every so often. If you know someone with a callback appointment who no longer needs it, encourage them to cancel it so others have the opportunity. PUA filers seem to more often get an answer when they call in on their dedicated line, 303-536-5615. Also, your Workforce Center may be able to answer some questions as to what's going on with your account, as they can see a lot of the back end.

UPDATE 12/11: Several women from the Boulder Workforce Center joined our Facebook group (see below for more on that), and they are inviting people to call them - even if not in Boulder, if you can't get a hold of your Workforce Center. They can really only see into the MYUI system, but for PUA claims with major holds, they may be able to send it up to a UI supervisor.

UPDATE 12/14: Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia and his aide Meredith and Josh Schwartz had a conversation this morning. They have offered to help with whatever they can regardless of District or party affiliation. Reach out to: senleroygarcia@gmail.com. This is a direct result of the #GrassrootsVoice work on Twitter.

Check out my other Navigating Unemployment posts, including where I explain more of the alphabet soup of Pandemic Unemployment (and those $600 and $300 additions we had earlier this year) as well as who is eligible for Colorado's one-time $375 stimulus.

I also highly recommend joining the Colorado Unemployment/PEUC/PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) Q&A Facebook group. There are some others overrun with spam, but this one is pretty good, and several of us in the group (myself included) have been in direct contact with Daniel Chase, Chief of Staff for Colorado's Department of Labor and Employment. Member Josh Schwartz has been our active #GrassrootsVoice, including speaking for us at a recent Town Hall with Senator Michael Bennet, and helping get some people's holds cleared up, as well as getting some better communication from the CDLE. You can also follow @Unified_Voices on Twitter. And as of 12/10/2020, there are several staff members from the Boulder Workforce Center who have joined the group, to provide their knowledge.

DISCLAIMER: If you're just now reading my blog, please note, I do NOT work for the CDLE. I just happen to have navigated many unemployment systems over the years, as someone who normally freelances in live entertainment (collecting unemployment in the few weeks between)....if we're not having a pandemic.

 

2 thoughts on “Which (Colorado) Unemployment am I in, and What’s My Next Option?”

  1. Hello, Erin. I saw your name mentioned today through CPR’s Lookout newsletter. In an article about CO unemployment it said you head up a Facebook group concerned with unemployment. I found your name in FB and your 8 December posting that led me to this 7 December blog post. I’m a currently unemployed gig worker and am interested in joining your FB group. If you could e-mail me or friend request/DM in FB then I would appreciate it.

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