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With nearly 230,000 people eligible Monday to reopen unemployment insurance claims in Colorado, the call center was so overwhelmed that many only heard a busy signal when they dialed the number.
People needing to pay February bills and buy groceries were frustrated by the busy signal and long wait times and aired their complaints on social media, including a Facebook page set up for those having trouble with the system. Colorado Department of Labor and Employment officials said they are adding more agents as fast as they can.
“The call center is up and running, but some callers may temporarily experience busy signals due to the high call volume,” said Cher Haavind, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s deputy executive director.
The call center employs 380 agents and another 50 will start work Tuesday, Haavind said. The labor department hopes to have 500 people answering phones within the next week, she said.
The call center has received between 7,000 and 10,000 calls per day since a new unemployment insurance system launched on Jan. 10, Haavind said. The average wait time is 30 to 40 minutes.
The number posted on the labor department’s MyUI+ website, (303) 536-5615, is designated for people who need help setting up an account, filing a new claim or certifying their weekly benefit eligibility. Call center agents also should be able to answer general questions about extended benefits programs and can take information from people whose claims have been placed in an integrity hold because of potential fraud. Fraud issues are passed to another team for resolution, Haavind said.
The labor department also has a main benefits call system with a virtual assistant that can answer some frequently asked questions and can schedule a call back with an agent. That line is open 24 hours per day, but returned calls can take weeks.
Thousands of Coloradans have been waiting since late December to reopen Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims after those programs expired. Created by Congress in the spring after the pandemic wrecked the economy, PUA provided coverage for gig workers and independent contractors, who don’t pay into state unemployment systems and PEUC provided payments to people who had exhausted their regular unemployment benefits.
Congress renewed those programs and former President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Dec. 27. But Colorado delayed restarting them so it could meet an identity verification requirement — meant contracting with an outside company to create a means for verifying a claimants identity and then installing the program into a newly launched unemployment insurance system.
The labor department notified 230,000 people Thursday that they could reopen their claims on Monday. The restart will roll out in phases, but the phase that began Monday will cover the largest number of people.