Colorado labor officials expect first round of $300 Lost Wages Assistance payments to go out this week

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is gearing up to start paying out $300 in extra weekly unemployment benefits to qualified Coloradans, with more than $459 million ready for distribution, state officials said.

Efforts to distribute that Lost Wages Assistance program money hit a snag Tuesday.

High demand has clogged the certification process the labor department is using to verify that people are eligible for federally funded payments, officials wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday morning.

“We are actively working to resolve these issues,” the post reads. “If you experience problems, please try again later today. It is not necessary to schedule a callback for these issues.”

The department is working with Google, its technology vendor, to expand capacity on the department’s virtual agent system, Cher Haavind, the labor department’s deputy executive director, said in an email. People collecting state unemployment benefits are being asked to use that automated system to confirm that they lost their job or wages because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a requirement to collect the $300 extra payments.

People collecting benefits through the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program do not have to certify because that program is already reserved for people impacted by the coronavirus.

The state opened up its certification process last week and, so far, more 8,000 people have been able to certify, Haavind said in an email Tuesday. People who qualify for the payments should have been informed about their eligibility via email or an outgoing call campaign.

President Donald Trump established the Lost Wages Assistance, or LWA, program through an executive order last month. The money, $300 per week for qualified unemployment recipients with an option for an additional $100 per week contribution from the state’s themselves, is being drawn from Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Colorado was among the first states to apply for and among the first states to be approved for the limited pot of money.  As of Tuesday morning, the state labor department had been approved for roughly $459.88 million in FEMA dollars, covering payments for the weeks between July 26 and Aug. 29, officials say. Colorado has applied for money to cover a sixth week, the week of Aug. 30 through Sept. 5, but has not yet been approved, Haavind said Tuesday.

Payments are expected to start being processed on Friday or Saturday. The first three weeks, covering July 26 through Aug. 15, will go out first as a lump sum with subsequent weeks to follow, according to Haavind.

Around 350,000 people in the state are qualified to collect LWA money, state labor officials say. Six percent of the state’s unemployed workers, however, will not qualify because their unemployment benefits amounts are too small.

People who collected less than $100 per week do not qualify, per federal rules, leaving some of the state’s most vulnerable people with no additional subsidy to cover their needs since the $600 weekly Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program expired on July 25.

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