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What’s Working: Unemployment backlogs, backdates and overpayments in Colorado

Plus: Fidelity has 300 jobs available, PPP forgiveness has begun, understanding your place in unemployment’s alphabet soup and more!

  • Credibility:

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment first dealt with the onslaught of coronavirus-related unemployment claims, now nearing 750,000 new claims. Then it had to figure out how to pay gig workers, who became eligible for the first time, thanks to the federal CARES Act. Then came the barrage of fraudulent claims by scammers trying to get some of those federal unemployment benefits.

This should offer insight into why the state agency is backed up with requests for payments on hold for one reason or another.

Of course, for the approximately 8,700 people waiting to hear back on unpaid benefits from weeks or months ago, time is obviously money. The wait continues but I’ve got some answers on why this is taking so long.

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There are currently 7,765 backdate requests in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance gig-worker queue and “fewer than 1,000” in the regular system, said Cher Haavind, deputy director of the Department of Labor.

Backdated claims are held up partly because of the volume of requests made but also because of each case’s complexity, she said. Changes have been made to speed up the process, but she could not say how long the process typically takes. 

However, she added, “as a result of continuing to refine our processes in this area to improve our delivery of service, the backlog has dropped from approximately 10,000 requests.”

If you do the math on that, that’s roughly 2,235 cases resolved since July 1. Excluding weekends, investigators are getting through about 29 cases a day.

Who got overpaid?  

A number of people who found themselves suddenly owing the state thousands of dollars in overpaid unemployment benefits don’t have to pay it back, as we explored last week in What’s Working. But who are those people who don’t have to pay back $1.4 million?  

“We have identified certain individuals who will have their overpayment balances removed. These individuals have been emailed. There are no updates to the estimated amount of overpayments,” Haavind said.

Other PUA users who receive a “Updated Notice of Wages Reported and Possible Charges” can appeal and the overpayment will be determined during a hearing.

The LWA countdown

One week is left to certify for a chance at the remaining $180-ish million the federal government set aside for unemployed Coloradans. This is the $300 weekly bonus benefit for people who were jobless between July 25 and Sept. 5. 

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

  • LIVE BLOG: The latest on closures, restrictions and other major updates.
  • 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

As of Oct. 10, 240,000 Coloradans have been paid $367.1 million, which averages to about $1,500 each.

But I know some folks out there just haven’t been sure if they’re eligible. Let’s try something else. Here is who is NOT eligible:

  • Your unemployment began on Sept. 6 or later.
  • You made less than $100/week on unemployment
  • Your unemployment had nothing to do with COVID.

If you’re a PUA recipient and believe you’re eligible but haven’t received a cent, call the PUA helpline at 303-536-5615. If you’re on regular unemployment and not sure if you qualify, go to coloradoui.gov and type in “Lost Wages” in the chat box. The virtual agent should know. Still confused? Tell me why in an email and I’ll ask the state about your account.

Primer on unemployment benefits

The alphabet soup of unemployment may be the Department of Labor’s worst enemy. I’m hearing from so many readers confused about their eligibility or ineligibility. So let’s go over this again.

Two types of unemployment (pick one)

UI –Unemployment Insurance, often referred to as regular UI. Those who work for an employer who pays state unemployment insurance are covered if they lose their job through no fault of their own. This offers up to 26 weeks of payments at about 55% of your average weekly wage over the past 12 months. >> File for regular UI benefits 

PUA — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is paid from federal dollars. Courtesy of the CARES Act, PUA provides benefits to those who don’t qualify for UI because such gig workers or others who get 1099 tax forms don’t pay into the state’s unemployment fund. Congress stepped to take care of these workers for the first time. PUA is calculated on a worker’s prior net income. It lasts 39 weeks and ends Dec. 31. >> File for PUA benefits

Bonus benefits

Both UI and PUA folks qualify for these extra federal benefits.

PUC — Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provided an extra $600 per week to anyone on unemployment receiving at least $1/week. Colorado began paying this out in April and folks could retroactively claim benefits back to February if their income was impacted by COVID disruptions. This ended on July 25 in Colorado.

LWA — Lost Wages Assistance is the result of a presidential order to provide an extra $300 per week after PUC ended. It picked up where PUC ended. To be eligible, you must have received at least $100 in benefits for any of the six weeks between July 26 and Sept 5. Eligible PUA users don’t need to do anything more, but UI folks have until Oct. 24 (or until the money runs out) to certify that their unemployment was due to COVID disruptions. >> Go to coloradoui.gov and type “lost wages” in the chat box. 

Extended benefits

These are only available to regular UI folks and extend unemployment pay, courtesy of the feds.

PEUC — Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation starts after regular UI is exhausted down to zero. Only then can one apply. It adds an extra 13 weeks of regular benefits and ends Dec. 26. Disqualifications include people who are receiving benefits from another state or are working more than 32 hours a week. >> File for PEUC

SEB — State Extended Benefits kick in after PEUC runs out. This begins automatically and extends benefits another 13 weeks. This is a federal benefit and ends Dec. 26.

NEXT UP? — Nothing yet. State labor officials as well as people who are still unemployed are waiting on Congress or the federal government to take action. Which brings us to …

The DC update

The U.S. Senate busied itself this week with the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings so not much was accomplished in terms of a solid followup to last spring’s CARES Act. But bits and pieces of what’s next emerged.

The Washington Post reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued to chat up a compromise on Thursday in the range of $1.8 trillion to $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief plan. 

They’ve already agreed to extend emergency unemployment benefits though the details are up for debate. But, the Post reports, even if the two reach a deal, Senate Republicans say even the president is asking for too much.

Senate Republicans are expected to propose a $500 billion plan next week, which would include another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding and enhanced unemployment benefits, according to Politico and MarketWatch.

If you hate waiting, you can contact Colorado’s Senators and let them know what you think: 

The Q&A: PEUC form hates my answer

Q: After repeatedly filling out the PEUC form, it presents a wall where it asks if I’ve worked for a certain long-ago employer. It won’t take NO for an answer! I tried answering yes but it still keeps asking the same question over and over and over again.  What to do?  — Lee

A: It’s not you, Lee. And it’s apparently not just PEUC forms. Haavind, over at the state labor department, said this is a bug with online applications, including reopening a claim or filing for regular benefits.

“This is a rare data issue that can lead to the application not presenting an option to answer a required question to proceed. Individuals experiencing this issue should try to reopen the claim in the online application (File a Claim) later. If this still doesn’t work, the individual would need to contact the division for assistance with the claim reopen,” Haavind said in an email.

For those rolling their eyes on the “contact the division” comment, yes, there is still a wait to talk to a human, with appointments now being set for December. But the department continues to call thousands back each week — this week, agents will call back about 6,400 people. 

But don’t forget, if you get your question answered, cancel your slot so someone else can take it. This week, 33% of scheduled calls were no shows. Only 5.1% had made the effort to cancel. To cancel, go to coloradoui.gov and type “cancel callback” in the chat box.

Jobs of the week: Fidelity Investments

Need work? Fidelity Investments wants to hire 300 people in Colorado over the next six months. Many are customer-service jobs that require no experience in finance. 

“We’ve found that people with experience in service or hospitality industries are often a good fit for our roles and helping customers,” said Janelle O’Haugherty, a Fidelity spokeswoman. “We are customer-obsessed and serving the customer is our top priority.”

The Boston company, which employs more than 1,000 people in Colorado, also needs people with experience as financial advisors or licensed securities representatives (Series 6, 7, 9/10 and/or 24 licensed). Pay is “competitive” and includes perks like student loan repayment, tuition reimbursement and adoption assistance.

With the pandemic, Fidelity added some new benefits, including improved emotional support and access to tools like background checks for vetting a nanny, tutor or medical care givers.

Most of the jobs are based out of Fidelity’s Greenwood Village office, but the company also has offices in Denver, Broomfield, Lone Tree and Colorado Springs. View the jobs here: jobs.fidelity.com

PPP forgiveness has begun

Small business owners who took advantage of the federal Paycheck Protection Program can start checking with their lenders about forgiveness. The U.S. Small Business Administration began forgiving loans this month, and some local banks have told me they are closer to announcing their forgiveness process.

There is a simple form available for businesses with loans of up to $50,000. However, don’t expect blanket forgiveness without lifting a finger. You’ll still need to submit payroll costs, taxes and verification of other business expenses. Read more: New form isn’t the “blanket forgiveness” some Colorado businesses hoped for in federal paycheck loan program

Help restaurants winterize

With winter on the way, surviving restaurants are in trouble. The Colorado Restaurant Association has partnered with Gov. Jared Polis on the Outdoor Winter Design Workshop on Oct. 19 to bring designers together to figure winter outdoor eating. Xcel Energy is also providing $500,000 plus a $250,000 match for grants for restaurants to winterize their facilities. Donate or apply at COOutdoorDining.org

Tell me your story

Folks tend to email me when there’s a problem with their unemployment. I try to track down answers but often, people who’ve already gone through the experience have much better insight into how things actually worked. So, to any or all who have seen success or setbacks in these areas, please reach out and share your story:

  • Back payments and getting paid
  • Reversal of payment holds
  • Appeals court outcomes

Just email tamara@coloradosun.com with “Share my unemployment story” in the subject line. 

Thanks for reading another week of What’s Working. Keep sending your tips, stories and struggles so maybe your tale will help someone else. Hang in there everyone! ~tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

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