By Andrea Flores

DENVER (CBS4) – Tensions have reached a boiling point as unemployed Coloradans go weeks, or even months, without payments. Coloradans rallied at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Monday morning.

Hours later, the department announced, “Reemploy Colorado”, a three week campaign to help unemployed workers get jobs, but for the state’s unemployed, searching for a job doesn’t pay the bills.

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(credit: CBS)

“My house is in a bankruptcy state, with a contract that says if we miss one house payment, they take our house that we paid 16 years on,” said Kimberly Rubio of Commerce City. “I know people here who have lost their cars, their homes, they’re living out of their cars with their children, and now they’re going to get their vehicles repossessed. When does it stop?”

CBS4 reached out to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and requested an interview with Executive Director Joe Barela. They sent a statement:

“We understand the phased-in rollout of the extended benefits of the Continued Assistance Act has been frustrating for many, which has prompted a demonstration outside our building. Our priority throughout this process has always been to get benefits in the hands of the largest population of eligible claimants we could feasibly reach at one time and in the shortest amount of time. While claimants eligible for Phase 2 will be able to apply for benefits the week of Feb. 22, we have already helped more than 139,000 people receive over $184 million in benefits as part of Phase 1 since February 1. In addition to the unemployment benefits we provide, we also help with reemployment support and launched a campaign today to help people return to work.

We will notify eligible claimants in Phase 2 during the coming weeks about next steps to reopen their claims. Programming of claims falling into Phase 2 requires more complexity than the claims that were eligible for the Phase 1 roll out and represents a smaller population than Phase 1.  Using this phased roll-out approach has allowed us to best continue to do everything we can to assist with the stabilization of the Colorado economy during the ongoing pandemic.

Phase 1 impacted more than 230,000 people which understandably has increased the amount of call volume into our call center. We anticipate high caller volume as we continue to move forward through our phased rollout, and as such will continue to train more call center agents. We will have about 500 total agents staffed this week. We have also updated and expanded our online resources to address the most common issues in order to help as many claimants as possible without them having to call in.

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While the new MyUI+ system has raised questions from claimants, the modernized, cloud-based system will allow for much speedier implementation of future pandemic assistance legislation that we expect to come from the new administration in the near future. CDLE is doing everything possible to expedite the availability of the Continued Assistance Act Unemployment Insurance extensions to impacted Colorado workers, but is it important to note that congress and the previous administration failed to sign the law before the CARES Act had expired. We hope this outcome pushes our new administration to act quickly and pass any new legislation well before the current benefits expire on March 13, 2021 in order to reduce or prevent any additional gap in benefits.

While we continue to program our system for the launch of Phase 2, CDLE has also launched a three-week reemployment campaign to get unemployed Coloradans connected to employment opportunities right away. As the state eases restrictions on the Covid-19 dial, more and more jobs are becoming available across the state. Right now there are more than 76,000 jobs listed on ConnectingColorado.com.”

Rally organizer Cherie Ripley says many don’t have until Feb. 22 to wait for assistance. She says it’s time for Gov. Jared Polis to step in.

(credit: CBS)

“He’s supposed to be helping people, and he refuses to acknowledge what’s going on with unemployment in the state of Colorado,” Ripley said.

(credit: CBS)

CBS4 reached out to the governor for an interview, but got a statement from a spokesperson instead.

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“The Governor understands the challenges facing hardworking people and small businesses who have been impacted by this global pandemic through no fault of their own. Months ticked by without any federal relief which is why the Governor in partnership with legislative leadership provided $375 in direct cash payments to Coloradans who were on unemployment and called a special legislative session to provide real relief to Coloradans and small businesses.  The Governor remains in close contact with CDLE, and the agency will ensure that the new benefits provided for in the federal Continuing Assistance Act are implemented as effectively as possible. These programs require complex programming to take into account hundreds of thousands of claimants, all with their own unique issues. Phase 2 will begin on 2/22. But every time Congress lets the program lapse, or reauthorizes it, or changes the program the state of Colorado is forced to wait for additional federal guidance, and then it takes time to reprogram the system in order to get money out to people and we know they don’t have that kind of time. The State has expressed its dissatisfaction with the federal government about this problem and it is our priority to get this benefit out as quickly as possible to all eligible Coloradans. Without the upgrades made by CDLE, people would not be receiving benefits for many more weeks but we know there is more work that can be done to help Colorado bounce back stronger than before.”

Andrea Flores