By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – Strangers who met on an unemployment assistance community Facebook group took their message right to the governor and Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Monday.

The rally began outside the CDLE offices and ended at the Colorado State Capitol. About 20 people attended and shared their varying stories of scraping by while being unemployed.

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“They’re not hearing us. They don’t have answers for us,” said Kimberly Rubio, who attended the rally.

Almost a year into the pandemic, many Coloradans remain out of work. Just last week, the labor department reported nearly 11,000 Coloradans filed initial unemployment claims.

More than one million people have filed since last March, and to this day the state has paid out nearly $7 billion in benefits. While that is a lot of money, the system has been plagued with issues and many people are not getting the money they’re owed. Kimberly Rubio, who came from Commerce City to attend Monday’s rally, believes she’s one of them.

Rubio said she lost her job last year after her company cut costs due to the pandemic. She was able to receive extended unemployment benefits for a while, but said they ended at the end of November.

“I’m worried,” Rubio said. “My house is in a bankruptcy state with a contract that says if we miss one house payment, they take our house that we’ve paid 16 years on.”

Like many others who attended the rally, Rubio is waiting on federal pandemic benefits provided by the Continued Assistance Act, which are currently being rolled out in Colorado. Phase 1 started last Monday, but phase 2, which she and many others qualify for, doesn’t open for several weeks. On Sunday, CDLE announced it would begin the week of February 22.

“We have to get online and certify, we have to follow their rules, and we call have done that, but they are not coming through with the money we need,” Rubio said.

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Others, like rally organizer, Cherie Ripley, are also waiting for phase 2.

Ripley said she holds CDLE responsible for the delays but remains frustrated with the governor for not doing more. It’s why she finished off the rally outside the Capitol with chants of “where is Polis?”

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

Jessica Hudgins Smith, Press Secretary for CDLE, tells CBS4 the department understands the phased-in rollout of benefits has been frustrating for many.

“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,” She said via email Monday.

According to Hudgins Smith, more than 139,000 people have received over $184 million in phase 1 since it began February 1.

Rubio says she can’t wait any longer.

“They have one sole job – to make sure the unemployed people get their money and they’re not doing it,” Rubio said.

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Last month, CDLE updated old technology that put a strain on the system and has since added new hours to call centers. We still hear from numerous people every day who say they can’t get through to anyone to get their issues resolved.

Conor McCue