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What’s Working: Why it takes two months to get a callback on unemployment: 25% of scheduled calls are “no shows”

Plus: New $300 federal bonus is coming soon, with limits; Monarch Casino has 200 jobs; new grants for small businesses.

Customers inside the Monarch Casino on Wednesday June 17, 2020, in Black Hawk, CO. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

Good news, job seekers: More jobs are being added back to Colorado’s economy. Bad news: 97,500 people stopped looking for a job in July for some reason. (Tell me why!)

But some of the biggest news this week, at least for those on unemployment:

  • The new $300 weekly bonus — a.k.a. the Lost Wages Assistance program — should start paying benefits to Coloradans in mid September. There’s only enough federal funding to cover three weeks of Colorado claims and the money is already tapped out.  Only those eligible for unemployment between July 25 and Aug. 15 qualify. And it’s undetermined whether the money will come in a $900 lump sum, the state’s Department of Employment and Labor says. Another difference from the prior $600 bonus: If you receive less than $100 in regular weekly unemployment pay, you don’t qualify. >> STORY
  • New benefits have also started up for those who’ve exhausted both regular benefits and the federal pandemic emergency benefits. The state paid out $70,000 in State Extended Benefits for the week ended Aug. 15. >> STORY 
  • Colorado’s Unemployment Trust Fund, which employers pay into, is out of money as of this week, according to the state. We’re one of 18 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands getting a federal loan to cover the gap (check out who’s borrowing how much). What does that mean for the unemployed? Nothing. The loan will cover regular unemployment payments. But down the road, the state must pay the money back. As of Aug. 20, Colorado had borrowed $25.7 million.

Less newsy: Still no unemployment relief from Congress since the U.S. Senate is in recess until Sept. 8. But according to the New York Times, Senate Republicans are considering yet another plan.

Get an answer in … October?

Readers are sharing that it’s now taking two months to schedule an appointment with a human at the unemployment office. While the department of labor is telling me that there are appointments being made in September (which is still almost two weeks away), reader JB sent me this screen shot earlier in the week: 

What’s Working reader JB shared this screen shot of his interaction with the Colorado unemployment office’s virtual agent. While the virtual agent solves user questions about 90% of the time, the rest are sent over to a human. But you’ve got to make an appointment for that and on Aug. 18, JB said appointments were being scheduled for late October. (Screenshot)

Maybe only people getting the October appointments are complaining to me, but I get it — that’s one or two rent/mortgage payments away. Here’s what’s going on behind the scenes: 

  • There is a surge in calls anytime there’s a change in benefits. And in the past week, the state added the SEBs, announced the LWAs and paid out some of the last of the $600 PUC bonus checks. Requests have flooded the system.
  • People who get help or their questions answered are NOT CANCELING their future appointment. This is a big deal, says Cher Haavind, the deputy director of the state’s department of labor. “We have about a 25% no-show rate,” she said. If you no longer need your future appointment, cancel it by going to ColoradoUI.gov and typing “Cancel callback” into the virtual agent message box.
  • The state just hired 60 more call center agents and also beefed up its virtual agent system. It estimates that by doing this, it can now schedule an additional 3,700 callbacks

So let’s try this again. How to get a call back? 

First, scan the Labor Department’s website to see if your question has already been answered. Since the pandemic began, the department has learned to deal with common requests by automating responses and providing guidance or forms to request a new PIN, backdate a claim, request emergency unemployment (PEUC), reopen a claim or report fraudulent activity

Then try out the virtual agent again. Every week, improvements are being made so if it didn’t work last week, the virtual agent may very well have a good response now. (And I just heard back from reader JB who tried this and now has an appointment for Aug. 27.)

And if you do have a call scheduled for October, the state’s director of unemployment insurance Jeff Fitzgerald said that you should go back into the system and see if there’s an earlier slot open.

Unfortunately, the state does not have a system yet that automatically alerts and moves users to earlier slots as they open up, he said. But if you do snag an earlier time, don’t forget to cancel your existing appointment.

Job of the week

Again, this column doesn’t aim to be a job board (but if you’re an agency with jobs to fill, we can help you with that). But Monarch Casino Resort Spa reached out after reading about the plight of James, who wrote in last week because he can’t find a job in the food industry and suspects age discrimination.

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

  • MAP: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
  • TESTINGHere’s where to find a community testing site. The state is now encouraging anyone with symptoms to get tested.
  • VACCINE HOTLINE: Get up-to-date information.

>> FULL COVERAGE

Monarch is hiring. The Black Hawk casino didn’t lay anyone off during the pandemic because it’s in the process of opening a 516-room hotel and three restaurants, as well as grab-and-go shops. It needs security workers, housekeepers, maintenance workers and more, and still has 200 jobs to fill. 

The openings target Colorado’s industries hardest hit by pandemic closures, such as hotels and restaurants. Erica Ferris, Monarch’s director of marketing, hopes the perks and pay persuade folks furloughed in Denver or elsewhere to apply: health insurance after 90 days, a 401(k) with a company match, relocation assistance (if you live more than 30 miles away) and round-trip bus tickets for $4. There’s also a free meal with every shift and a COVID-19 test.

“Most of our jobs are above minimum wage,” Ferris said. Housekeepers with at least on year of experience, start at $18 an hour.

The company is following strict coronavirus safety measures so all employees — and customers and vendors — must wear masks and get their temperature checked. 

One can apply online or show up between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 27 at Monarch’s final job fair, held at Sheraton Denver West Hotel, 360 Union Blvd. in Lakewood. Bring a resume, dress appropriately and you may walk out with a job. More details are here.

Don’t forget: Your job search is auditable

Job search requirements were waived at the start of the pandemic, but they’ve been a weekly chore for anyone on unemployment since June. That means keeping track of all job searches, which needn’t be regularly submitted, but should be saved in case the labor department comes knocking. Reader AH reminds everyone, those job-search records are auditable for up to two years.

Fraud update

Unemployment claims using stolen identities are still coming and so far this month, the state’s improved fraud detection system has prevented the payment of $17 million in August and $52 million overall.

And for some reason, a lot of victims are clogging the unemployment system asking for a call back. My take is that these folks aren’t unemployed so they’re not paying attention to the deluge of news about stolen IDs and unemployment, including a reader who emailed us earlier this week with a “hot tip” because he received an unemployment benefits debit card even though he’s still employed. (I gently let him know that we’ve been covering this since June — read Colorado-specific tips here.)

If you’re a victim, call the bank’s number on the back of the card and then report it to the state through this link.

New resources for businesses

Small businesses continue to struggle, whether or not they received one of those helpful Paycheck Protection Program loans. Here are a few other grants and loans that I learned about this week: 

  • Comcast NBCUniversal is providing $150,000 to small businesses in Denver as part of its company-wide $100 million effort to advance social justice and equity. The money is available through the city’s Priority Neighborhood Small Business Fund and Nonprofit Emergency Relief Fund, two grant programs aimed at, respectively, small businesses and nonprofits in underrepresented communities. >> INFO
  • The city of Centennial also has small business grants of up to $30,000. But the deadline is 5 p.m. on Aug. 30. >> INFO 
  • Facebook added $100 million in grants to support Black-owned businesses in the U.S. >> INFO

The Q&A

Questions from readers are edited for clarity. Have a question? Just ask.

Q: My second job wasn’t put into (my) account so I am wondering how I file for PUA backdated payments?

A: Getting help for PUA eligibility (that’s the federal assistance for unemployed gig workers) may be much easier than for people on regular unemployment, or folks whose employers pay into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. 

You can call for help! The number is 303-536-5615. (You can also try the virtual agent that pops up on the main unemployment page.)

But keep in mind, PUA has been targeted by those identity thieves who are making fraudulent claims. The state has limited backdating to two weeks. If you are requesting changes earlier than that, you’ll need to call in to get verified anyway.

——

That’s it for the week. Share your stories, tips and questions with moi at tamara@coloradosun.com and we’ll see how much we can get done next week. ~ Tamara

What’s Working is a new Colorado Sun column that aims to be a useful resource for those who have lost a job, are trying to find one or are trying to hire someone. Don’t miss the next “What’s Working?” published every Saturday. Add the free pop-up newsletter to your Sun account.


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