Several questions came in this week asking about why a program offering an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits is ending four weeks early.
Stop reading if you’re on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) because this doesn’t impact you (although, don’t forget, PUA benefits end Dec. 26).
But read on if you’re on regular unemployment, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) or State Extended Benefits (SEB).
Last week, I mentioned the length of regular unemployment benefits goes something like this:
Unemployment (26 weeks) → PEUC (13 weeks) →SEB (13 weeks)
But because the state’s unemployment rate fell below 5%, it now looks like this:
Unemployment (26 weeks) → PEUC (13 weeks) → No more
SEB (13 weeks)
Colorado is not eligible for the SEB program after Nov. 28 because the insured unemployment rate fell to 4.9% on Nov. 7.
And the huge bummer is that the state can’t rejoin for 13 weeks, even if the rate goes back up — which it likely will since two dozen counties are now at red-level COVID-19 restrictions that have shut down indoor dining, closed bars after 8 p.m. and so much more.
You may be wondering how did the state’s unemployment rate drop to 4.9%? Astute readers will recall that the state’s unemployment rate had improved to 6.4% in September and stayed the same in October as places reopened and people returned to work. But the rates are apples to oranges.
The monthly rate is based on how many people are on regular unemployment on the 12th of each month. SEB only cares about the 13-week average of continued claims by the same folks — or employees whose employers paid for unemployment insurance.
On Nov. 7, the 13-week average dropped to 131,429 folks who made a continued claim. Out of 2,692,685 people in the workforce, that’s 4.9%. According to data provided by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, here’s what that insured unemployment rate looked like during the pandemic since April:
The reality: Way more are unemployed
The 4.9% only counted workers whose employers paid for unemployment insurance.
But because we’re in a pandemic, there are several other types of unemployment, including compensation for self-employed and gig workers (PUA), and for workers who’ve used up their 26 weeks of benefits. All of these groups are paid from federal dollars — so they’re excluded from the 4.9% calculation.
If the SEB calculation included everyone, that would add nearly 100,000 included in the rate, which brings the rate to 8.34% for Nov. 7, according to state data. People are moving off of regular unemployment to extended benefits and aren’t being counted. Add those in, and the chart would look more like this:
This chart, by the way, also doesn’t include the 16,000 Coloradans who are currently on SEB, according to the most current data from the state. If it had, that unemployment rate would be even higher.
What to do if you relied on SEB
Since SEB existed before the pandemic — and kicked in during the Great Recession — it’ll likely take an act of Congress to change the rules to let Colorado and other states back into the program. More likely, Congress will pass a new coronavirus relief program to help unemployed workers.
But that’s been taking months and even Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is frustrated and said Congress must pass another relief package.
“I’ve been pushing hard for months to extend the expanded unemployment benefit that served as a lifeline to thousands of Coloradans who lost their job, through no fault of their own, when the pandemic first hit,” Bennet said in an email. “I’m incredibly frustrated by the political games that are being played at a moment when Congress needs to act—it’s disgraceful. I will continue to work with anyone who wants to pass as relief package that will meet the needs of the American people.”
For those on SEB who had counted on the extra month of extended benefits, you may be eligible for the federal PUA program reserved for self-employed and gig workers. That’s because PUA is available for those who’ve exhausted their regular unemployment benefits and are still out of work due to COVID (Here’s the U.S. Department of Labor’s note on that eligibility.)
PUA pays benefits for 39 weeks, so if you haven’t used up all 39 weeks on regular unemployment, the state is supposed to let you know about switching to PUA if you can swear that your job loss is due to COVID.
Here’s some good news about those 39 weeks. It looks like this:
Unemployment (26 weeks) → EXCLUDES
PEUC (13 weeks)→ SEB (13 weeks)
The 13 weeks of PEUC don’t count toward the 39 weeks, but SEB does, because PEUC was created for the pandemic but SEB was not. That means a person who’s used up all 26 of regular unemployment but just 3 weeks of SEB may still have 10 weeks of eligibility left.
However, everyone needs to remember that most benefit programs end Dec. 26, unless Congress extends PUA or PEUC.
For those struggling, please seek other financial support, such as rent assistance for tenants and landlords. Gov. Polis has extended the eviction ban to Dec. 20 (fill out this declaration form and share it with your landlord). There also are other resources for food, utility-bill payments and more. See the guide at the bottom of this column here.
Free training for jobs that are hiring
Returning to an old job may be out of the question until a COVID-19 vaccine is available. But even then, it may be time for a career change. The Pikes Peak Workforce Center wanted to help folks use this down time to make those changes
Traci Marques, the center’s executive director, said her team looked at the skill sets of unemployed workers and compared them to jobs that were growing and hiring in 2019 and 2020. Then it created Upskill 2020, a new online training program.
“We have everything on there from a platform where you can get anything from Microsoft advanced training, to Access, to how to do an effective PowerPoint presentation, to how do you do Zoom or Google Classroom,” Marques said. “It’s a wide variety of 69 different online business skills that online job postings say they need.”
One program, for example, is YouScience, which aims to help people figure out what they really want to do. (Note: The YouScience link was updated on Nov. 30, 2020 to the Pikes Peak Workforce Center account. Interested users must submit their email to get access.)
“Let’s say you’ve been a waitress your whole life but now you’re displaced and unemployed. What do you do next?” Marques asked. “An interest and aptitude assessment will actually have you go through brain games and give you some careers that are a fit for you (and) associates it with open jobs, along with the salary. And if there’s training, whether it’s a certificate or two or four year degree, it’ll go ahead and match you to the training institutions that are available in your area.”
Since it’s online, it’s free to all Coloradans. It also counts toward the state’s unemployment requirement for job training, Marques added.
The Pikes Peak center does have a temporary location at 1049 N. Academy Blvd. in Colorado Springs for folks who need access to a computer or meet with a career counselor. The center asks that you make an appointment at ppwfc.org or call 719-667-3700.
Speaking of job openings…
Over at the workforce center in Denver, there were 10,515 job listed openings in October, which is down about 10% from a year ago. Interestingly though, there are only 20 fewer employers with jobs in the same period — down to 1,171, according to data from the Denver Economic Development & Opportunity.
“The logistical warehouse positions, grocery chains, of course, and then tech is still doing well even with a pandemic just because most jobs that can be done from home or remotely haven’t been impacted quite as much,” said Bret Walker, manager of employer services for the Denver Economic Development & Opportunity. “
At its ongoing and online job fairs, top employers who are hiring include Denver Public Schools, AmeriCold, FirstBank, Amazon, UPS, King Soopers, Colorado Department of Transportation, Natural Grocers, Ameristar Casino and Monarch Casino.
“Retail, hospitality are being hit harder than others. Oil and gas are, of course, getting hit harder during the pandemic,” he said. But, he added, “there are 92 employers on our virtual job fair right now. … The Amazons of the world, UPS right now are hiring especially during the holidays. Kroger, King Soopers, those are still hiring in for a lot of our entry level transitional jobs. And then, of course, a lot of our IT companies are still hiring at a very significant pace.”
Most jobs are found at ConnectingColorado.com, but Walker says it may not include everything out there, so keep your eyes open.
Free PC, hotspot rentals for job search coming to Denver
The Denver workforce center is also teaming up with the city’s public libraries to add more computers and wireless modems available to anyone with a Denver library card.
Walker said that it’s part of a CARES Act grant for $475,000. The money will be used to purchase about 400 computers and wireless modems and will join the Denver Public Library’s existing lending service, which allows patrons to borrow a wireless hotspot modem (with internet service included) like a book.
“The impetus of this was to have it be for individuals with work (needs) but we’re not going to turn anybody away,” Walker said.
The goal is to help up to 700 people who are looking for work in upcoming months. The loaner program is expected to start in January.
Unemployment holds update
As we learned last week, there are 6,000 unemployment claims still on hold after triggering one of the 18+ fraud alerts. For insight into why your case may be on hold, read this earlier column, “What’s Working: Thousands of fraud holds lifted for Colorado unemployed.”
The labor department launched a new portal in October to help manage the cases on hold. It set up a link through Box.com for users to submit their IDs, documents and even selfies of the person posing with their ID. So, don’t email, fax or mail your personal documents to the state — the state will share this link with you. Those with cases on hold can call the PUA helpline at 303-536-5615 and ask that their case be investigated so you can get that link and get your case in the queue.
But the Department of Labor said its investigators are still finding fraud even among folks who are calling up demanding an investigation.
Cher Haavind with the Department of Labor said that multiple teams are working alongside criminal investigators to resolve the issues.
“Those who have 3+ fraud holds need to be worked on by criminal investigators,” Haavind said in an email. “Others are worked by other teams. Bottom line is box.com is only one way we are working them.”
Not everyone on hold is being accused of blatant fraud though. “The thing to keep in mind is due to our recent analysis, the majority of these will be released in the coming weeks,” Haavind said last week.
If you found your case resolved in recent weeks, share what happened with me and other readers to spread the knowledge.
Another end to another week in the pandemic. I know it’s difficult to be thankful if your unemployment benefits have been on hold for months or coronavirus restrictions have shut down your business. But sharing your stories has helped me expose what’s going on and help explain what’s happening behind the scenes in Colorado’s pandemic job scene.
Thank you to all readers who’ve shared their stories, asked questions or offered tips and resources to help others. If you find the column helpful, share it with someone else who would too. It’s free to read — and get it in your inbox at coloradosun.com/getww. Hang in there and see you all next week! ~tamara
This story was updated on Nov. 30, 2020 to add the Pikes Peak Workforce Center’s special link to YouScience, and add a link to the U.S. Department of Labor’s note that PUA is available to those who’ve exhausted their regular unemployment benefits.
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