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What’s Working: Small business funding available, back to business in 2021, Colorado unemployment updates and more

Plus: New unemployment system launches Jan. 10, new rules for employers, and how to start your own business

Chicago style Vienna beef on W. Colfax Ave in Lakewood advertises its carry-out. Signs of COVID-19 and its effects on bars and restaurants are visible around the metro area on December 16, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

If you’re reading this, you’ve made it past the first day of 2021. Congratulations! 

We can look forward to wider availability of COVID-19 vaccinations (people 70 and older are now eligible). We welcome surviving businesses to ramp back up sooner than later — Gov. Jared Polis has already asked the health department to ease up on the most severe restrictions so restaurants can reopen to some indoor dining. And we’re hoping those still on unemployment will find new work this year (more on new benefits below).

Of course, 2021 will be rough for people who don’t have a good job now. Whole industries remain impacted, such as the event sector. Some major conventions are still on hold until 2022! Recovery is brutal, so help me make this column as useful as possible. Reach out with job tips, business advice and other work-related feedback at tamara@coloradosun.com

Can’t find a job? Start your own

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, but if you’re going to start a business in the middle of the pandemic, Colorado (or perhaps Denver or Colorado Springs) is a good place. Lots of people continued to do so during the pandemic.

In fact, 38,678 new businesses filed to start up in the third quarter, up 24.3% from a year ago, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Unknown is how many called it quits. State data showed 8,457 businesses were dissolved in the same quarter, a 9.6% increase from a year ago. But, says Betsy Hart, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office, “existing entities may not file (for dissolution) for a number of reasons,” so it’s incomplete data.

But enough about failure. If you’ve got a good idea or plan for a business and job prospects are otherwise bleak, start with our own Secretary of State Office. It offers an online tutorial on starting a business. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

You’ll need to pick a good name (and a good internet domain), come up with a business plan, register your business, secure the filing and do a few other things. There’s all sorts of local resources available, such as Colorado Small Business Development Center’s interactive resource tools or a similar localized list from the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.

Colorado has become a top state for venture investments. And according to third-quarter data from PitchBook-NVCA, Denver is still in the top 10 regions nationwide that attract investors. If you’re looking for more intel on what it takes to get investors, check out Boulder-based Techstars Entrepreneur’s Toolkit or Y Combinator’s guide on Series A funding. 

The Front Range also has several investor groups, such as the Rockies Venture Club, plus a number of grants including the state’s own Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Who wants to know more? Tell me about it.

Speaking of small business funding…

The Paycheck Protection Program loans are coming back in the new federal COVID relief bill. Expect the new round to open this month. The low-interest loans — 100% forgivable if terms are met — are open to small businesses who had a 25% decline in revenues in 2020 compared to 2019 and employ no more than 300 people. I mentioned other changes in a recent story, but keep watching The Sun for more details on the new program.

The SBA, which is overseeing the PPP program, also extended the deadline for its Economic Injury Disaster Loan. This loan, now extended until the end of 2021, offers grants of up to $10,000 to businesses in lower-income communities. The loans offer a 3.75% interest rate for small businesses and a 2.75% rate for nonprofits. >> Details

MORE STATE HELP: Remember when the Colorado legislature had its special session in early December? That resulted in $35.15 million for small business grants. The Department of Local affairs is handling the program. Eligibility includes:

  • Restaurants, bars, distilleries, wineries and breweries, caterers, movie theaters and fitness or recreational sports centers with revenues under $2.5M.
  • Must be a corporation, limited liability company, partnership or sole proprietorship in good standing with all licenses and founded prior to March 26, 2020.
  • Must have at least one employee, unless a sole proprietorship, 
  • Experienced a 20% reduction in revenue due to capacity restrictions from public health orders
  • Here’s how to apply

→ Colorado Arts Relief Fund — Another program funded by the recent state legislation provides $7.5 million to arts, cultural and entertainment artists, crew members and organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals can apply for up to $2,500 while organizations get funding based on their operating revenue losses last year. >> Details 

New Colorado laws for employers

For those already with a job or running a company, a slew of new workplace laws went into effect on Jan. 1, including one that benefits the lowest wage earners. If you’re an employer, hopefully you already knew about these rules. Here they are, with insight from Michael H. Bell at the law firm of Ogletree Deakins in Denver:

2.7% pay raise — Colorado’s minimum wage is now $12.32 an hour, up from $12. Tipped minimum wage increases to $9.30 an hour, from $8.98. And for those who work in Denver, the minimum wage jumps to $14.77, with tipped workers getting at least $11.75.

Paid sick leave — Businesses with 16 or more employees must provide paid sick leave as part of the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act. Covered workers earn one hour of sick time per 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours a year. Unused hours carry to the next year, but workers are limited to 48 hours of sick time a year. That may “create strange results,” Bell said, since a worker could wind up with more available sick leave than they are allowed to take in a year. 

Emergency paid leave — In a public health emergency, employers must supplement sick leave based on how much an employee works in a two-week period. For example, a full-time worker with 20 hours of accrued sick leave would get 60 hours of emergency paid leave, but one with 35 hours of accrued leave would get just 45 extra hours. There are limitations on how the leave can be used, but it includes people who must self-isolate. 

Equal pay for similar work — Starting Jan. 1, employers with at least one employee in Colorado are prohibited from paying different sexes different amounts for similar work. However, different pay is allowed based on seniority, merit, geographic location, past training or experience related to the job or if a system is in place to measure productivity or quality, according to the Equal Pay For Equal Work Act.

Unemployment roundup

Now that the new federal COVID relief package is official, here are the highlights:

  • Extends both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for self-employed and gig workers and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) for those on regular unemployment, for 11 more weeks through March 14 (or April 5 if one hasn’t used all their benefits). Those on regular unemployment or PUA are eligible for up to 50 weeks of benefits.  
  • Pays out $300 per week extra to anyone on unemployment from Dec. 27 and through March 14. 
  • Allows Colorado to return to State Extended Benefits with feds covering 100% of payments (instead of splitting costs). More on SEB below.
  • Allows states to forgive overpayments if the unemployed person was “without fault.” But state Department of Labor officials said no decision has been made yet.
  • Pays an extra $100 a week to PUA workers who are “mixed earners” because they also had some regular UI income. They must use up regular benefits first, even if the amount is much smaller than their PUA income.   
  • Most Americans will also get the $600 stimulus check starting Jan. 4 (though some began showing up in bank accounts on Tuesday). 

Expect a delay: The state is waiting on federal guidance to reprogram its computers to make the new payments. That could take us into late January or possibly February. But, as in the past, those eligible as of Dec. 27 will get paid retroactively. See the earlier story: Unemployed Coloradans won’t see federal jobless aid for weeks despite Trump signing coronavirus relief bill.

→ Mark this date: Jan. 10. The second Sunday in January is the first day the new labor department computer system goes live. As mentioned before, the state was in the process of installing a new system when the pandemic hit in March. So it waited, as its old system creaked along under the demand of those on regular unemployment. People on PUA were moved to the new system. 

Now, the new system will be available for everyone and offer weekly payments, add more self-service features and hopefully transition quickly to the new federal payments. 

GOOD TO KNOW:  If you plan to make a payment claim for this past week, do it by Sunday, Jan. 3. Otherwise you won’t be able to get into the system until Jan. 10.  

Get Help: If you need help now, check out this list of financial aid, rent help and other resources. >> Details

Are SEB payments returning?

Possibly. Those who got cut off Nov. 28 stand to be paid retroactively. But …let me try to explain again. 

The 13 weeks of State Extended Benefits ended early when the state’s unemployment rate fell below 5% on Nov. 7. However, major efforts by state and federal policymakers resulted in new laws to make the benefit available  to Coloradans again– including our own U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet who got a reversal into the new federal relief bill. 

But our unemployment rate has continued to decline.

That 5% is now at 3.7% as of Dec. 19. It may seem strange, since new weekly unemployment claims have risen since Nov. 7. For the week ended Dec. 26, about 45,000 people filed for unemployment for the first time, compared with about 15,000 for Nov. 7. And the number of people still collecting unemployment each week is 265,507, or nearly back up to where we were in early August.

The number doesn’t reflect our real unemployment rate because it doesn’t count people on federal unemployment, which make up the bulk of the state’s unemployed. A more meaningful, though still incomplete, rate is the monthly unemployment rate, on which SEB can now base our eligibility as long as we’re at 6.5% or above. As of Dec. 20, we were at 6.4%. We are kicked off of SEB again.

The new federal relief plan reinstated 100% funding for SEB, so if our unemployment rate goes up again, Colorado could offer SEB to those who’ve used up all other benefits.

But for those who missed out on receiving SEB pay between Nov. 29 and Dec. 26, the state is updating its system to pay the benefits retroactively, according to the state labor department.

“SEB is not being paid out yet,” said Bill Thoennes, a spokesman for the labor department. “It will need to be programmed into the new system.”

Thanks for tuning in again to What’s Working, which I’ll keep writing as long as folks feel it’s useful. Let’s get through this new year in better shape than yesterday. Have a good 2021! ~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.

MORE: Read stories on Colorado jobs and unemployment


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