New phase of benefits extends aid to those who lost jobs |

New phase of benefits extends aid to those who lost jobs

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment announced Thursday that the second phase of the extended unemployment benefits provided through the Continued Assistance Act will begin Saturday.

The second phase will provide much-needed help to nearly 300,000 people, including many in Routt County, who exhausted the balance of their federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claims on or before Dec. 26, 2020. Those claimants will receive an additional 11 weeks of benefits as of Dec. 27, 2020.

Phase 1 of the program began in January for people who still had existing balances on their Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claims as of Dec. 26, 2020.

“On Saturday, Feb. 20, which is earlier than we anticipated, we will roll out Phase 2 for claimants, and they will be able to begin certifying their weeks for the payments, filing new claims and reopening if they were moving into programs,” said Joe Barela, executive director of the state’s labor and employment department. “So that’s really exciting, that we are able to finally announce that people will start being able to move into the Continued Assistance Act, Phase 2.”

The Continued Assistance Act, which was signed into law on Dec. 27, provides 11 additional weeks of federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program that temporarily expands unemployment insurance eligibility to self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits, which is an emergency program designed to help Americans who are out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the timing of when the Continued Assistance Act was passed by the federal government there was a gap between when most unemployment benefits had ended , and these extended programs began.

“We understand that this gap in benefits has been challenging, and we are grateful to have our systems programmed two days ahead of schedule,” Barela said. “We’ve had our teams working nonstop to get these continued benefits in the hands of eligible Coloradans who are relying on our help during this stressful time.”

The act reestablished the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provides unemployment recipients with an additional $300 weekly benefit, and established the new Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation program, which will provide an additional $100 weekly benefit to those receiving regular state unemployment benefits who have also suffered a loss of self-employment income.

The Department of Labor and Employment started to notify claimants this week about next steps ahead of Saturday’s Phase 2 rollout.

“We did email 289,000 claimants earlier this week, and laid out the steps that they would need to take between that email and when we are preparing to deploy tomorrow night,” Cher Haavind, deputy director of the labor and employment department.

Starting on Saturday, people should log into their MyUI+ accounts and apply for standard unemployment benefits if they have the option to do so. Those people will be able to certify their weeks the following day. Federal rules require the Department of Labor and Employment to confirm that claimants are either not eligible for, or have exhausted, regular state unemployment benefits before paying benefits under the federal pandemic programs. Those signing up for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will also be required to go through the verification. This is another federal requirement for claimants, which has greatly reduced fraudulent activity in other states.

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