Announcement comes as unemployment claims rise in Pueblo, statewide

Starting next week, "gig" workers in Colorado — such as those who work for ride-hailing, shopping and delivery services — are eligible to collect unemployment benefits through the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday.

On Monday, Colorado’s labor department starts taking applications for benefits provided by the CARES Act, a federal relief program that pays up to an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits. Payments would be retroactive to March 29 and are expected to start hitting claimants’ accounts as soon as next week. The benefits would also be extended to self-employed individuals and independent contractors.

"We do not know how many gig workers are out there," said Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, at a news conference Friday. "But we have expanded tools and on Monday will have systems in place to begin taking these applications and provide other resources."

Colorado, Barela said, is among the first states that would accept applications and pay benefits under the CARES Act by rolling out a new online system — — where instructions would be announced. Regular unemployment benefits for Coloradans continue to be processed through the existing systems, so no changes would need to be made.

The news comes as Colorado saw 104,217 initial unemployment claims — which establish benefit eligibility — filed through the week of April 11, which is more than double from the previous week, when 46,065 were filed.

The total benefits paid for the week ending April 11 — $62 million — also doubled, from $29.8 million paid the week ending April 4, according to the latest data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

For comparison, during the height of the 2009 recession, $19 million in benefits were paid out on an average weekly basis in Colorado. In May 2009, $102.8 million in benefits were paid out in the highest monthly total on record, according to the state labor department.

The department says it has completed over 150,000 online payment requests since March 16.

Also Monday, a new 80-person remote call center goes live to help manage overflow questions from the labor department’s existing call center. Virtual town halls for the public to ask questions will be streamed at 9:15 a.m. Monday and at 11:30 a.m. for Spanish speakers.

On March 5, the state announced its first two positive cases of coronavirus, and since then the number of unemployment claims continues to spike. The latest data from the Colorado labor department shows the number of claims statewide rose from 1,915 during the first week of March to 86,500 the last week. In comparison, the weekly statewide average in 2019 was 2,044.

In Pueblo County, where the 2019 weekly average was 74, claims totaled:

· 57 for the week ending March 7.

· 78 for the week ending March 14.

· 560 for the week ending March 21.

· 2,006 for the week ending March 28.

The Colorado labor department says the top five industries with workers seeking unemployment benefits are: accommodation and food (21,124); health care and social services (9,717); retail (7,400); personal services, such as nail and hair stylists (5,914); and arts, entertainment and recreation (4,080).

Twitter: @jrlopezricardo