With just a few days before the election, Congress appears to be not one bit closer to another round of COVID-19 relief than it was in late July, when special pandemic unemployment benefits ended.
Hence, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis figured out how to offer a one-time $375 payment to almost anyone on unemployment between March 15 and Oct. 24.
Polis is taking $163 million from the three state funds, including the Disaster Emergency Fund, and giving it to those most in need. Read his executive order.
About 435,000 people qualify but not everyone on unemployment is eligible. There’s actually just one qualification:
- Received at least one week’s worth of unemployment benefits for $25 but no more than $500 between March 15 and Oct. 24.
Based on that lone requirement, this translates to people who make less than $52,000 a year. It doesn’t matter if you’re on regular unemployment or pandemic unemployment. No certification is required.
“Only about 49,000 (on unemployment) will not be eligible,” said Cher Haavind, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “Our outreach effort to all claimants will start next week.”
This is not unemployment, by the way. It’s just a payment that most people on unemployment qualify for. That said, there’s no appeals process if you happen to make $501 a week in unemployment benefits, she added.
If you believe you’re eligible, the Department of Labor says you don’t need to do a thing. You’ll receive an email or call from the department starting as early as next week. But they suggest that you log into your benefits account and make sure the address and payment method is up to date. Payments should be sent in early December.
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Speaking of emails, especially unopened ones…
Many people on unemployment are not checking their inboxes for messages from the state Department of Labor.
Last month, Haavind shared a shocking number with me: Only 50% of emails sent to people eligible for a $300 weekly bonus were opened. The message was sent to 220,000 people on regular unemployment who needed to certify before they could claim the federal Lost Wages Assistance benefit.
“It’s a two-way street,” she said at the time. “Please read and respond.”
This may explain why only $377.4 million out of the available $553 million in Lost Wages was paid to Coloradans as of Oct. 29. Of the 244,000 who did receive some of the money, about 68,000 were Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) users.
While the LWA program is pretty much over (read last week’s update if you missed the deadline), the department still sends out important emails that remain unopened.
Take overpayments, for example. This has been a big issue for some people on unemployment who found themselves suddenly cut off from the weekly benefits and stuck with a demand for repayment. For one reason or another, the state paid them too much.
But among the 9,000 emails sent to users to tell them their payment was forgiven, Haavind said, about 80-85% were opened.
So, check and search your inboxes and spam folders frequently if you are expecting communication from the state.
The need-to-know on evictions
Last week, we reported that Gov. Jared Polis issued an eviction moratorium for 30 days. If you fear getting kicked out of your home because you haven’t paid rent, you still need to lift a finger and fill this out: Declaration of eligibility.
This form certifies that you can’t pay rent because of financial hardship due to COVID-19. It’s your word, which better hold up in court. So don’t fib.
Take it to your landlord and try to work out an alternative payment plan.
Without this, said Carey Degenaro, an attorney helping out with Colorado’s COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, you can still be evicted.
“The most important thing is tenants bear the burden of asserting that they’re protected under these moratoria. So they need to know about complete and submit a declaration form to their landlords,” Degenaro said. “Otherwise their landlords can do whatever they want.”
There is the other ripple effect. Tenants skipping rent may create financial hardship for landlords. I’m working on a story about the issues so if you have any insight or your own landlord or renter story, let me know via email.
>>Another tip: If you’re facing eviction, you probably haven’t paid your electric bill. Call the nonprofit-run 2-1-1 helpline, or visit 211colorado.org and ask for help. I mentioned this to a reader this week who shared her unemployment situation — as well as mentioning that her lights were going to be turned off the next day. She called 2-1-1 and now has her utility bill covered until the end of the year.
Tales from the unemployment queue
Jennifer Milton shared an update this week. I wrote about her frustrating unemployment hold that left her without any income so she ended up living in her car. She reports that her case has now been resolved.
The issue? Her claim was flagged for fraud. Specifically, at one of the houses she stayed at during the pandemic, she used the computer, as did others also filing for unemployment.
“Apparently there were numerous PUA claims filed from their IP address,” Milton said. “The only reason they put me on hold is because my address associated me with that house that one time, so they froze my stuff until they (could) talk to me.”
That took about three months.
Another woman, named Elizabeth, found her and her husband’s benefits put on hold on Aug. 13 and she couldn’t get a call from the unemployment office until December. But she reported that after the state dismissed one type of fraud hold in mid-September, she started getting payments again. Presumably, it was because the department decided that two unemployed people at the same address was OK.
However, on Oct. 8, she received a strange message from the state with a link to upload her personal documents, which included a photo of her face holding up her ID.
It was legit. We verified that yes, the state sent her a link to upload documents to Box.com.
Many of the emails I receive are from people who say they’ve also been waiting for months to get things cleared up. Like Heather Sullivan, who reached out to tell me about her and her son’s case.
He accidentally wrote in the wrong social security number (you should ask the virtual agent at coloradoui.gov to fix that). Her case was locked for reasons she didn’t understand. She learned that the unemployment office lobby was open for appointments, managed to snag one and then “made the 120 mile trip north the following day,” she said.
But instead of talking to someone in person, she was sent to a cubicle to talk to an agent on the phone, just as she would have done if she had called the 303-536-5615 PUA helpline.
“Once I was speaking with the agent, I quickly realized I was not getting anywhere,” she said. “This agent also could not get past the lock on my account.”
On Oct. 9, she got that same email Elizabeth did, asking for further verification, like a selfie with her driver’s license.
She’s still waiting.
In another case, Sam messaged me about his wife not getting the $300 in Lost Wages even though she’s a PUA person. I told him to call the PUA helpline at 303-536-5615, as the state instructed. He did and verified she’s eligible and will be receiving the bonus payment.
But I learned later that Sam’s wife was actually on regular unemployment — not PUA. People on PUA were automatically paid the LWA, while those on regular unemployment needed to tell the state their unemployment was due to COVID. (If you are an eligible PUA person who didn’t get LWA, email me.)
Lesson: Read carefully. And read the What’s Working archive regularly!
>>HELP ME: If your unemployment case was resolved or you discovered another useful tip for wading through pandemic unemployment, please share your story by emailing email@example.com
Child at home?
A few unemployed parents received a disconcerting message this week that they were disqualified from benefits because of a “child at home” affecting their ability to return to work.
That was a mistake, confirms Haavind.
“Yes that is an issue we identified last week, but payments were still made within payment windows,” she said. “We sent two emails notifying impacted claimants. The fix should be deployed by the vendor this week.”
Small business grant
Last week, the nonprofit Energize Colorado announced that it awarded $6.7 million in grants to 500 businesses in the state.
This week, the group, which raised funding from private donors and received some of the state’s federal CARES Act money, shared how competitive the process was:
- 5,600 businesses applied
- $135 million was requested
- 90% were owned by women, minorities or veterans, or were in rural locations
Most counties had at least one business that received a grant, with the top counties being Denver (99), Arapahoe (69) and El Paso and Jefferson in a tie with 32 awardees each.
A second round of awards for a total of $19 million is expected to be announced by Dec. 30.
That’s it for this week’s What’s Working. I don’t delete emails, but if you’ve asked a question and I haven’t responded, please try again at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure “What’s Working” is in the subject line. Stay safe, Happy Halloween and don’t forget to vote! ~Tamara
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating today’s economy. 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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Miss a column? Catch up:
- What’s Working: Unpacking Colorado’s “muddled” economy
- What’s Working: Diversity tools to get past Denver’s $45,000 “scrape-by” wage
- What’s Working: Colorado gets closer to pre-pandemic economy as jobless rate falls to 3.7%
- What’s Working: Colorado program is looking for a few good older workers
- What’s Working: Colorado is offering up to $50,000 to tap into an old-timey resource — apprenticeships
- What’s Working: Colorado unemployment rate drops to 6.4%, $19 million for small businesses, plus “Lost Wages” leftovers
- What’s Working: Unemployment backlogs, backdates and overpayments in Colorado
- What’s Working: “Lost wages” gets a new deadline, overpayment forgiveness, small business updates and more
- What’s Working: One third of Colorado’s share of “Lost Wages” still unclaimed, plus a new portal to the unemployment office
- What’s Working: Thousands of fraud holds lifted for Colorado unemployed, while more face pricier health insurance
- Unemployed and nearly homeless, jobless Coloradans whose benefits are on hold are crying for help
- The $300 “Lost Wages” bonus begins, Amazon is hiring like crazy and answers from Colorado’s labor department
- What’s Working: Extra $300 unemployment benefit gets a start date and how Colorado overpaid $40 million in jobless aid
- What’s Working: The situation with PUA benefits. Plus, why action is needed to get extra payments.
- What’s Working: Spanish-speaking virtual agents, extra $300 weeks approved and a new small business fund