Colorado’s state government leaders knew they — and thousands of the state’s workers — had a problem when the coronavirus pandemic sent Colorado’s economy into chaos in mid-March.
The state had spent, over 22 years, more than $97 million to build a new unemployment benefits system. But when 21,000 people found themselves out of work on March 23, the system buckled.
People could not log on. Or they got bumped off the system. Confusing forms baffled users. Questions about how to file claims spilled over into weeks-long waits to talk to a person at a call center. For many, an unintentional computer error meant long delays for payments as their bills piled up. Fraud was rampant.
“To say we are working off a 30-year-old legacy mainframe built on three-decade old language and we just now are modernizing, it does seem unimaginable that it has taken this long,” Cher Haavind, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s deputy executive director, said. “We agree. We wish we had been here sooner.”
On Sunday, the labor department will launch a new online system for the state’s 265,000 unemployed people to file claims. Since the pandemic’s start, the unemployment system has put $6.7 billion into the state’s economy, helping a million Coloradans pay their rent, electricity and grocery bills while the virus rages on and thousands of businesses remain closed. The need is unprecedented.
Labor department officials knew as early as 1999 that their computer system was outdated and vulnerable. Since then, there have