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What’s Working: Colorado unemployment rate drops to 6.4%, $19 million for small businesses, plus “Lost Wages” leftovers

It’s the last day to certify for the $300 LWA, but if you’ve been stuck in the state’s unemployment system, there’s still $180 million left.

A customer orders food from the restaurant inside Beltran’s Meat Market in Northglenn on Oct. 5, 2020. The family owned and operated bilingual meat market received a Colorado Enterprise Fund loan available to underserved communities. (Eli Imadali, Special to The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

The deadline to claim up to $1,800 in bonus federal unemployment benefits is today for thousands of jobless Coloradans. But political differences continued to thwart any new coronavirus relief plans from moving forward in Congress to help struggling Americans, businesses and industries.

On Wednesday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, pushed a $500 billion plan that included an extra $300 of weekly benefits through Dec. 27 for unemployed Americans. But that was half the amount in the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act 2.0, passed by House Democrats. The Republican bill was also less than what President Donald Trump asked for.

Colorado’s Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet, who voted against McConnell’s plan, said in a statement, “Americans need a relief package now that includes an expanded unemployment benefit, longer-term support for our hardest-hit small businesses and nonprofits, support for state and local governments, and a national testing and contact tracing strategy to tackle this public health crisis and safely keep our economy open.”

A weekly report on Colorado jobs, unemployment and more. Get it in your inbox at coloradosuun.com/getww

His own plan, the Worker Relief and Security Act would keep the extra unemployment benefits flowing as long as there was a public health emergency.

Of course, no new action coupled with the recent spike of coronavirus cases in Colorado has made it extra tough for out-of-work residents. There are roughly 218,000 Coloradans receiving unemployment benefits currently as of Oct. 17. According to the state Department of Labor and Employment, the median length of unemployment reached 21 weeks in September. 

“The 21 weeks is significant because that exceeds the median length of unemployment duration for individuals in Colorado during the height of the Great Recession, when it was 20 weeks,” said Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the Department of Labor, on the new data out earlier this week.

Some good news is that more Coloradans have returned to work. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 6.4% in September, which is down from 6.7% in August and from the peak of 12.2% in April. That was due to stronger growth in total employment, especially in the private sector, Gedney said. 

“Over the past five months private businesses have added 219,700 jobs. That’s compared to losses totaling 332,200 in March and April,” Gedney said. “That represents a recovery of over 66% of private sector jobs lost earlier in the year, which well exceeds the U.S. recovery rate of 54%. Colorado’s private sector job recovery rate ranks as the eighth fastest in the nation.”

Getting “Lost Wages” after the deadline

As of this week, Colorado still had more than $180 million in Lost Wages Assistance money up for grabs. This is, again, $300 in weekly benefits reserved for people receiving at least $100 in weekly unemployment benefits between July 26 and Sept. 5. 

The state has paid out $371.5 million out of a possible $553 million as of Oct. 17. But officials believe there are still about 70,000 who qualify for the one-time federal relief of up to $1,800 for the six-week period. The last day to certify is today, Oct. 24. Only those on regular unemployment must certify that their unemployment is due to COVID. Certify at coloradoui.gov and type “lost wages” in the chat box. 

Qualified Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) users don’t need to certify. But if you’re a PUA user and haven’t received the money yet, call the PUA hotline at 303-536-5615.

“Our estimates, we believe perhaps, were a little more generous in terms of the eligible population for LWA,” said Cher Haavind, deputy director of the Department of Labor. 

But this should give hope to the thousands of unemployed Coloradans with cases on hold for one reason or another. The state hasn’t run out of the federal funds yet. If your claim is cleared in time, you could still be paid LWA benefits since there is money leftover.

According to federal LWA program guidelines, states have until Dec. 27 to distribute the funds but can extend funding 180 days to complete investigations.

Overpayment update

More insight this week into who’s eligible for forgiveness of $1.4 million in unemployment benefit overpayments. If you recall, about 9,000 PUA users applied for benefits as the federal law allowed, received them and then got slapped with a bill saying they shouldn’t have been paid as much as they were.

The Department of Labor decided to write off those overpayments because of the confusing PUA application form. Some gig workers didn’t understand the difference between net income and gross income. The 9,000 people who are eligible were emailed last week and don’t need to do anything further, Haavind said. 

“There was confusion, particularly among gig workers, on how to report net gross income, profit and loss as required per the feds,” she said. “Duplicate fields with the same number of wages added, as an example, indicated to us they didn’t understand the reporting mechanism. We flagged those claims as overpayments. We notified those individuals last week. And they need to take no action.”

However, many others who were overpaid are out of luck on full forgiveness. If the person failed to report wages, do a work search or accepted unemployment benefits while they were still working, those will still be deemed overpayments.

But one more group of unemployed Coloradans may see their overpayments waived on appeal. These are people who were overpaid based on a wage higher than it should have been.  The department emailed this group this week. 

“They don’t need to wait for communication from us,” Haavind added. “They can actually log into the PUA application and navigate to their correspondence screen. And if the statement is ‘the notice of wages and possible charges,’ that will walk them through how to appeal that monetary redetermination.”

Are you an underpaid minimum wage earner in Denver? About 850 employees at Metropolitan State University will get back pay because the school thought it was exempt from the city of Denver’s minimum wage boost to $12.85 per hour on Jan. 1. The state’s minimum wage, by the way, jumped to $12 an hour on Jan. 1. If you work in Denver and are earning less than $12.85, the Denver Labor office takes complaints by email, phone or in person. 

$19 million still available for small businesses

A statewide effort to help Colorado small businesses awarded $6.7 million in grants to 500 businesses this week. It was round one of the Energize Colorado Gap Fund. Round two is still taking applications through 5 p.m. on Oct. 26, and that round has $19 million to award.

The program, which has raised $31 million, is a mix of federal CARES Act funding, state money plus private donations. It prioritizes small business owners who’ve traditionally had a more difficult time finding financing, including businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans and rural residents. Eligible businesses must have no more than 25 full-time employees.

The program offers up to $15,000 in grants and $20,000 in loans for a possible $35,000 in total financial assistance. To apply, visit energizecolorado.com/gap-fund.

Who’s hiring? Nestle Waters North America

My colleague Jason Blevins has a story for Monday on Nestlé Waters North America. The company needs to hire more people from Chaffee County to qualify for another 10-year permit to pump groundwater from the Upper Arkansas River Valley for bottling in Denver.

The company missed the mark for hiring at least 50% of its truck drivers from the region, even with $5,000 signing bonuses and offering $28 an hour to local drivers.

The job requires licensed truck drivers to drive tankers full of spring water 130 miles to the bottling facility in Denver and back to the Johnson Village pump station for a second round-trip. You can apply here: nestlejobs.com

County officials, “have suggested the company instead pay $500,000 into a fund for affordable housing, which remains the crux for mountain communities seeking to grow its local workforce,” Blevins reports. Check back Monday on ColoradoSun.com to read his story. 

Stop that eviction!

Gov. Jared Polis put a 30-day stop to evictions with a new executive order this week after a recommendation from the Special Eviction Prevention Task Force. My colleague Jesse Paul has the details in his story

The highlights? Renters must prove a financial hardship by showing they made less than $99,000 in 2020, are unable to pay full rent or find other housing and make an effort to pay something. But landlords still can evict a tenant who poses a “serious threat” or causes “significant damage” to the property. 

That didn’t sit well with the Colorado Apartment Association because the governor’s order doesn’t take into account the small landlords who are also having a tough time and now are prevented from looking for tenants who can pay the rent.

Because of such orders, evictions in Colorado have been relatively low since the pandemic began. But, as Hamrick noted in a previous story, many renters who lose a job or can’t afford rent move in with friends and family or look for a cheaper place. In September, there were 1,617 eviction filings in Colorado, which was 63% of what it was a year ago, before the pandemic. And by Sept. 20, 90.1% of tenants had paid their rent for the month.

If you’re having housing troubles, here’s a few resources that you should contact:

  • Emergency Housing Assistance Program from Colorado’s Division of Housing was created during the pandemic to help landlords and tenants. It offers rental and mortgage assistance. >> Details
  • Colorado Coalition for the Homeless: Provides assistance in finding permanent housing or keeping current housing. >> Details
  • 2-1-1 Colorado: Dial 211 on your phone to contact one of six call centers across the state that provide rent assistance to qualified applicants >> Details
  • Colorado Foreclosure Hotline (877-601-HOPE) offers resources and options for mortgage holders falling behind. >> Details
  • Colorado Apartment Association rental assistance resource list. >> Details

Thanks for reading another week of What’s Working. I didn’t get to the massive number of reader stories about experiences with unemployment yet. But keep sending me your tips, stories and other job-related information to make this information-packed column as useful as possible. Email me at tamara@coloradosun.com


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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