By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4) – Now that President Trump has signed the next COVID-19 relief bill, there will be extended pandemic unemployment benefits for jobless people across the country. But in Colorado, many people are still having trouble getting through to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to obtain their previously approved benefits.

“Very disheartened,” said Joshua Matthews, who lost two jobs due to the pandemic. “It makes the whole thing seem like smoke and mirrors.”

Joshua Matthews (credit: CBS)

Matthews was getting a weekly unemployment check, but recently, the money stopped coming. Now, he says he can’t even get a call back for someone to help him understand why.

“I noticed that it said I had a pending review, I tried to call and set up an appointment, I was told over the phone there was no availability to set up an appointment, they take you through the process to do it, but at the very end, they just stonewall you and say, ‘sorry there’s no appointments,'” Matthews explained. “It says, I’m sorry there are no phone appointments available, thank you.'”

Vicki LaNave is in a similar position. She’s been on unemployment since losing her office job in May, but the week of Christmas, she didn’t get a check.

“I expected a check last week, it was Christmas, kind of ruined my week, bills need to be paid, there was a lot of stress over this, (thinking) how I am I going to get a Christmas dinner, there’s no money to pay the electric,” LaNave said.

She says there’s a notice on her online account saying her claim is pending review, but there’s no further explanation as to why.

“The virtual assistant doesn’t give you any answers to the questions I asked, is there a problem with my case, why haven’t I gotten paid, those answers aren’t there for someone like me,” LaNave said.

She says even if she could get a call back appointment, it would be too late to do any good.

“I can make an appointment for someone to call me back, but it’s for six to eight weeks later, at that point, I’m on the street pushing a shopping cart, and that’s a very scary thing,” LaNave said.

The CDLE says on its website that it’s reprogramming its system to accommodate the new relief bill signed Sunday by President Trump, and claimants should be contacted soon with more information.

As CBS4 Investigates uncovered in November, budget cuts and outdated tech from the 1980s has caused significant problems for the CDLE’s pandemic response. For months, people have been struggling to get answers about their claims.

The department is planning to roll out the first phase of its technology modernization strategy in January, to try to make its systems more efficient and user-friendly.

LaNave hopes those initiatives will help people like her get their money soon.

“I don’t know when I’m going to see my next payment,” LaNave said. “So, I don’t know when I’m going to buy groceries, when I will pay the utilities.”

CBS4 reached out to the CDLE for answers about why these issues persist, and how the technology modernization will affect claims. A spokesperson for the department wrote in an email to CBS4, “As fraud became a national crisis in Unemployment Insurance programs, Colorado implemented fraud triggers from the PUA claims system into the regular claims application and while that has detected fraud in many claims, it has also caused holds for folks who had previously been receiving benefits. We have scanned for those that have been held and have been releasing those that do not appear to be fraud. When we go live with our new system on 1/10 we will have a process in place for people with holds to call in and report those and request a review.”

Kati Weis