The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every corner of Colorado’s economy, resulting in unprecedented job losses.

More than 127,000 Coloradans filed unemployment claims between March 8-28, according to the state labor department, almost 4% of Colorado’s workforce.

It’s likely thousands more people will file in the days and weeks ahead. State systems are updated to allow gig workers and self-employed people to access benefits for the first time ever.

Here are the answers to some key questions about unemployment benefits in the time of coronavirus pulled from information provided by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

How do you apply for unemployment benefits in Colorado?

There are two ways to apply: Online through the state’s coloradoui.gov website or by calling the customer service line. That number is 303-318-9000 for people in the Denver metro area and 1-888-550-2800 for the rest of the state.

People with last names beginning with the letters A through M are asked to file online on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays or after noon on Saturdays. People with last names starting with N through Z are asked to file Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays or before noon on Saturdays. The voluntary system is meant to lighten the load on the state’s system and ensure more applications get through and result in initial claims.

The online system is sometimes taken down for maintenance from 6-8 p.m. in the evening. If the system maintenance page comes up at any other time of day, the applicant should clear their browser history and refresh the page.

Who is eligible for unemployment benefits in Colorado?

Unemployment benefits traditionally have been available to people who have lost work by no fault of their own, are actively seeking new work and earned at least $2,500 (including tips) in the 12- to 15-month “base” period before they applied.

But any worker who has lost hours or income as a result of the coronavirus crisis may be in line for payments.

If a person is working fewer than 32 hours per week and being paid less than what state benefits would provide them — roughly 55% of their average weekly income over their 12-month base period — they may be eligible for partial benefits.

How do pandemic unemployment benefits work in Colorado?

The new, federally funded Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program set up through the CARES Act opens up benefits to gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed.

People who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are taking care of someone in the household who has the disease also are eligible. For a more complete list of who can apply for benefits through the program visit bit.ly/2xihNxj and scroll down to the “What unemployment programs have been added?” tab.

When do expanded benefits under the CARES Act kick in?

Gig workers and others made eligible for benefits through the new program should wait to apply. Colorado is still updating its system to accept applications and pay benefits set up by the CARES Act. Officials are hopeful the updates will be complete by the end of this week or early next week.

How much does unemployment pay in Colorado?

The average weekly benefit is around $400. The maximum benefit is $618, state officials say.

Applicants can enter their income information from last year and see how much they might receive on the state’s estimator website coworkforce.com/uibEstimator.

Pandemic benefits through the federal government are a flat $600 per week. People can collect them for up to four months or until the program ends on July 31.

All applicants can backdate their claims to the date when their employment situation changed and request benefits based on that date.

How do I access money through Colorado’s unemployment program?

People have to request payments from the state every two weeks, either by calling 303-813-2800 or by visiting coloradoui.gov/myUIClaimant. To put in a request, the applicant will need to enter a personal identification number or PIN sent to them by the state after filing their initial unemployment claim.

The state pays benefits in two ways: Either via a debit card from U.S. Bank or via direct deposit set up once the person logs into the claimant system with their PIN.

It can take between two and six weeks for the state to process a claim and get payments out to people.

What if my unemployment account PIN never came?

Because of the high volume of claims pouring into the state, the CDLE last week was reporting a backlog of PINs that it needed to get out to people. The state switched from manually mailing PINs to phone and email-based distribution earlier this month to catch up.

Anyone who was expecting a PIN that never arrived is asked to call the customer service line at 303-318-9000. Long wait times are likely. A new PIN also can be requested online at colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/covid-19-workers.

Do I have to look for work while I am collecting unemployment in Colorado?

Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order last month waiving work search requirements for unemployment recipients during the coronavirus crisis.

People still must register for job opportunities on the state’s job board site connectingcolorado.com or with their county’s workforce center if that center is still accepting walk-in visits. A map of workforce center locations is available through the ConnectingColorado site.

The governor’s order also waived the standard one-week waiting period for benefits.

How long can you receive unemployment in Colorado? 

The state pays benefits for up to 26 weeks at a time but the pandemic unemployment program will allow for an extension of up to 13 more weeks.

People who have opened a claim in the last 12 months will not have to refile if there is still money available through that claim. They can reopen that existing claim with the state.

*By Joe Rubino via Denver Post*