As coronavirus cases in Colorado are on the rise again, so are business restrictions and, ultimately, the number of Coloradans finding themselves newly unemployed.
The number of folks on unemployment for the first time increased 25% during the week of Halloween from the prior week, pushing over 10,000 for the first time since July 25. The weekly numbers had been declining since the peak of 104,000 in early April.
Accommodations and food service jobs continued to be the hardest hit, but until next week, we won’t know more about the impact of recent restrictions on businesses in Denver, Adams, Boulder and Jefferson counties. Just before Halloween, the number of new claims in accommodations and food services jumped 29.4% in a week.
If there’s one bit of hopeful news, it’s that there are fewer people still on unemployment, as of Oct. 24. Continued claims for the week were down 6% to 207,795. But again, this latest available data is before Denver and other nearby counties limited capacity to 25% at restaurants, offices and other places, as well as Friday’s 10 p.m. curfew order. Pueblo is entering the second week of an overnight curfew enacted to slow the spread of the disease.
If you’re new to unemployment, please read some older What’s Working columns in case the answer you need is there.
Here are a few other updates for those still on unemployment:
- Lost Wages Assistance, the $300/week bonus, paid out another $1.9 million last week to bring Colorado’s total to $378.3 million. That leaves $174 million unspent in the state. It’s too late to claim the benefit if you didn’t certify by Oct. 24. (If you missed out on LWA because your case was on hold, you still may get the money.)
- Overpayment forgiveness update: It’s still happening. But it’s not done yet. I heard from one Coloradan who said she received the letter saying that she qualified for forgiveness, but the overpayment showed up on her account again this week. Says Cher Haavind, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Labor: “Programming has not yet been completed on this but the process will occur as previously reported.”
- A new letter from CDLE: A letter from the Department of Labor was sent out this week asking folks to recertify that their unemployment between May 3 to May 20 was due to COVID-19. The cause: It came from the U.S. Department of Labor because of wording changes. States now need to ask those affected to recertify for those weeks “to more properly reflect the CARES Act requirements,” Haavind said.
PLEASE: I heard from a handful of folks who swore they are owed the LWA money. After confirming with them on eligibility (ie: made at least $100/week between July 26 to Sept. 5, certified if needed), I asked the state labor office about these specific cases. Guess what? They were already paid! If you think you are owed money, please read the rules before contacting me. Here’s a link to my primer on the types of unemployment available.
Worst case scenario: 166 weeks to clear
A big unknown for some on unemployment is when will the fraud hold on my case be lifted? Or how much longer until I get the money from backdated claims approved? Or when will my overpayment case be appealed?
Well, according to Haavind, 9,000 items have been logged as needing a review by an employment investigator. Of those, 7% have been investigated so there are still 8,323 in the queue. The investigative team completes about 50 cases per week so it could take 166 weeks to get through the pile!
Hopefully, that’s the worst case scenario.
Haavind, with the department of labor, said that the unemployment office is constantly trying to address easier questions by pushing users to its site to find answers or ask the online virtual agent at coloradoui.gov. And there appears to be 300 in the queue who seem to have resolved their cases through call-center agents.
She said to check back next week for an update.
December 26 is approaching
Dec. 26 will be a doozy of a day for folks on unemployment. Nearly all the federal unemployment benefits programs will end that day in Colorado. That includes:
- PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the benefit for self-employed and gig workers
- PEUC, or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, the first 13 weeks of extended regular unemployment benefits
- SEB, or State Extended Benefits — the second 13 weeks of extended regular unemployment benefits
- LWA, or Lost Wages Assistance — the $300/week bonus for up to six weeks has until Dec. 27 to distribute funds. While it’s true the state stopped accepting certifications for those on regular-unemployment Oct. 24, you still may get it if your case has been on hold.
These programs actually expire Dec. 31, but because states are allowed to end it on the last full week prior, that happens to be Dec. 26, a Saturday.
These programs were created by the federal CARES Act in March. The idea was that should the pandemic continue, Congress would pass a new relief program. As we’ve reported, that has not happened because of how divided our politicians are. But with the election over, hopefully, Congress will come to an agreement before the end of the year.
FYI: While the $600 weekly benefit known as FPUC (Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation) ended on July 25, Colorado is still paying out the benefit on newly approved, backdated claims that involved the weeks ending April 4 to July 25. Last week, Colorado paid out nearly $10 million.
Housing help for renters and landlords
Most readers who email me are unemployed and searching for answers. But one thing struck me while working on a story on the state’s eviction moratorium: jobless renters who are really in trouble don’t know about the eviction ban.
COVID-19 IN COLORADO
The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:
- MAP: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
- TESTING: Here’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.
And it’s not just renters but landlords too. So here it is again: If you’re a renter struggling to pay rent because you lost your job during the pandemic, fill out this form to officially declare your pandemic-induced economic status and present it to your landlord. Your landlord cannot begin the eviction process if you signed the form. (Don’t forget to read the criteria.)
After doing that, seek rent help. You may qualify for rent payment from a variety of state or charitable programs so you can use what little income you make on other needs. I’ve posted a bunch of resources for both renters and landlords.
The Resident Relief program from the Colorado Apartment Association aims to help “responsible” tenants, and oddly, said Drew Hamrick, CAA’s legal counsel, “The biggest problem with that program has been lack of applicants.” It also doesn’t have an income limit, unlike most government programs.
Helpful to both sides is the Property Owner Preservation program, which is funded by federal CARES Act money. Landlords can apply for rent payments on behalf of a struggling tenant and get the money directly.
Check out the resource list at the bottom of this story: Eviction ban or not, Colorado tenants still worry about their rent while landlords struggle to survive.
Attention restaurants: $10,000 available
To keep workers on the job, the Colorado Restaurant Association has pushed for expanding outdoor dining rooms. This week, it’s offering a limited number of grants of up to $10,000 for restaurants to winterize those spaces.
The program is open to food-and-beverage businesses majority-owned by Coloradans. And the money must be spent on the outdoor space, which can be anything from heaters and tents to snow removal and architectural or design fees. Here’s a list of rules and guidelines.
If you’ve already done the work, you can still apply for a grant if the work began after Aug. 1. Special consideration will be given to restaurants that show a year-over-year revenue loss of 40% or more.
This is part of a $500,000 contribution from Xcel Energy Foundation plus money raised by the Colorado Restaurant Foundation. For winterizing resources and tips, there’s a page for that too.
Besides the grants, a bunch of engineering and architectural firms participated in the Outdoor Winter Design Workshop last month and came up with nine outdoor-dining concepts. Many look like pop-up shops that can be plopped down in any available outdoor space, including parking spots. Check out the designs here.
Restaurants have seen some of the heaviest pandemic-induced job losses. Every week since mid-March, restaurants and eating places had the highest share new weekly unemployment claims except for one week, Sept. 5, when the category of “architectural and structural metals manufacturing” took the lead.
Historically, restaurants contribute heavily to weekly jobless claims in Colorado. Last year, the category ranked second by rate of overall weekly new claims. This year, the industry would love to be where it was last year at 4.6%, instead of the 37% from the week ended March 21 or the 9.8% for Oct. 17.
With coronavirus cases now at their highest levels since the pandemic began, there’s a lot of concern that another stay-at-home order could doom already struggling restaurants. The restaurant industry pushed Gov. Jared Polis on it Tuesdsay during a special call.
“We honestly have not looked at anything like a statewide shut down or anything like that,” Polis said. “I can say from a health perspective, we don’t have concerns about outdoor dining that is spaced. From a health perspective, outdoor dining is a fine thing to do.”
Other restaurant resources:
- The CRA’s useful list of links of cities offering relief programs to their local restaurants >> Details
- Pinnacol Assurance workers’ compensation customers can get a $100 credit on their policies for personal protection equipment through Dec. 31. >> Details
While we’re on the restaurant industry, for those looking for work, here are some restaurant and hospitality job sites:
- Colorado Restaurant Association: jobs.corestaurant.org
- Good Food Jobs: goodfoodjobs.com
- EatDenver job board: jobs.eatdenver.com
- RestaurantZone: therestaurantzone.com/restaurant-jobs
- Culinary Agents: culinaryagents.com/jobs
- Poached: poachedjobs.com/jobs
A free Thanksgiving meal?
Speaking of food… Denver-based Ibotta has teamed up with Butterball, Walmart and other big brands to offer a discounted Thanksgiving meal. It might even be free, depending on your turkey selection.
Ibotta is known for its mobile app (and now browser extension) that offers cash back on grocery purchases and other goods. The app alone may be useful anyway to anyone now earning less because the pandemic.
This year, Ibotta put together a Thanksgiving meal for families who’d like to cook at home. The total cash-back value is $20.27 and includes a 3-pound turkey breast, gravy packet, stuffing, mashed potatoes, a can of cranberry sauce, and the fixings to make green bean casserole. Plus a 2-liter bottle of Coca Cola. Opt for a larger turkey, and Ibotta covers $9.98 of the price. >> Details
I’m asking for a spouse…
At least once a day, I get an unemployment question where the sender is asking on behalf of their husband or wife. Why not just ask me yourself? Here’s the thing, I need to know who you are in order to ask labor officials to respond to your case.
What helps me help you is to tell me these things as you share your story:
- Are you on regular unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)? If you don’t know, please read my primer on the types of unemployment.
- Your email used to file for unemployment. If you have a case number, even better!
- What city do you live in? There might be other resources in your town.
- Clarity. Before you hit send, take a minute to read your question out loud to make sure it makes sense. I don’t mind the typos but some messages are so discombobulating, I cannot understand what they’re saying.
While I may not respond to every email, sharing your story helps inform my reporting so I ask better questions and get the answers.
HELP ME: How’s the job search going or not going? Tell me your methods, what works or doesn’t, what are responses from potential employers? Share your jobs story with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s it for this week. Send your comments, tips and stories to me and be a sport, share this column with all your friends and social networks who really should read it. ~tamara
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating today’s economy. Read the archive, send a message and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter in your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww
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- 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