Unemployed Colorado workers who want to apply for one of two renewed federal benefits programs will be able to do so sooner than previously expected.

That means that as of Saturday, gig and self-employed workers who aren’t already getting aid and Coloradans whose regular unemployment insurance benefits have run out, will be able to reopen or open anew claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends regular state benefits for 13 more weeks.

The original start date for those workers was to be Monday.

“We emailed all claimants on Tuesday who might be eligible on the processes that they need to start taking to file on Saturday,” said Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Saturday’s rollout is the second phase for the renewed federal programs, which expired at the end of last year. It’s expected to impact about 289,000 possible claimants. The first rollout was for workers who saw their benefits expire by Dec. 26, when the old programs ended.

At the same time, all those filers also will be eligible to receive an additional $300 a week under the renewed Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, and each new filer can backdate payments to Dec. 27, meaning they could get about two months worth of paychecks.

Those programs are set to ex-

pire again in mid-March, unless Congress approves extending them in the newest COVID-19 relief bill, which Congress is still working on.

Phil Spesshardt, acting director of the department’s unemployment insurance division, said Congress isn’t expected to approve any new relief bill until at least the middle of next month, meaning filers likely will see another gap in their benefits.

“Members of Congress are off this week, meaning that this important work isn’t getting done for citizens out there, and not just in Colorado, but every state, who are suffering and struggling during this period of time,” he said. “This is the point where individuals need to use the power that they have to be pressing their representatives to get something done. The more they can be pressing their representatives, the quicker states can react and get those programs implemented and avoid these types of gaps.”

Meanwhile, the department continues to deal with separating legitimate UI claims for state and federal aid with fraudulent ones.

Since the pandemic began and workers started turning to unemployment aid, more than 1 million fraudulent claims have been filed in all state and federal programs. That doesn’t mean, however, that each of those fraudulent claims led to fraudsters actually getting money.

Spesshardt said that the department has managed to prevent about $7 billion from leaving the door.