Everyone is crossing their fingers that the technology overhaul underway to update the Colorado unemployment computer system will be completed successfully by Sunday.
Blame the pandemic for the nine-months-ish long delay. The new tech was supposed to be installed in April, but was postponed when the state realized it had to implement a new system to distribute federal benefits to self-employed, contract and gig workers. The old system would have to sputter along and continue to handle regular claims, which numbered approximately 773,558 new claims from mid-March to Jan. 2.
This upgrade is completely unrelated to the new federal benefits, which is causing the state to reprogram its computers again. That’s the extra 11 weeks for those who’ve exhausted their benefits, plus a weekly $300 bonus payment.
But out-of-work Coloradans will feel the double whammy of two waiting periods. While we wait for labor staff to get federal guidance and reprogram the computer, other states have already rebooted on those pandemic assistance programs.
(Guidance, by the way, did arrive from the U.S. Department of Labor before the new year. Check it out. And some states reported getting federal funds Jan. 4.)
Just take a look at a handful of other states that began paying the $300 bonus benefits this past week: Alabama, Arizona, California and several others, according to their state labor departments. There are also a few sites tracking the rollouts, including this one and this one.
Some states, like New Hampshire, also began paying the first week of benefits for those on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation — benefits that Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado’s Department of Labor Department of Labor and Employment, said could take two to four more weeks to deliver. That puts the next payment for PUA/PUEC folks into next week at the earliest and February at the latest
Here’s what the new benefits look like depending on where your unemployment stood on Dec. 26. (UI is short for unemployment insurance, which is what employers pay to a state trust fund that provides benefits to laid-off workers.):
- $300/week: All those eligible for unemployment between Dec. 27 to March 13 will get an extra $300 per week.
- Regular UI: No pause in payments, though requests must be made on the new MyUI+ system starting (hopefully) Jan. 10.
- Exhausted regular UI: Eligible for 24 more weeks of PEUC, which includes 13 weeks from the CARES Act and 11 weeks in the new relief plan.
- PUA: Eligible for 50 weeks, which includes 39 weeks from the CARES Act and 11 weeks in the new relief plan.
- SEB (State Extended Benefits): Return to PEUC for 11 more weeks
- Mixed earner: This is new. Those eligible for both regular UI and PUA must exhaust their regular benefit first, but will get an extra $100 per week as a mixed earner
→ A Sunday (1/10/2021) update: The upgraded MyUI+ system went live at 6 a.m. for those eligible for regular unemployment only. Those on PUA, PEUC and SEB are asked to wait until the state can reprogram the new federal benefits into this upgraded system. See the state’s news alert on its unemployment page for a brief explanation above.
→ Sunday update #2 : How did the Day One go? Read the story: “Colorado reopens its unemployment system after long-awaited computer upgrade. Nearly 30,000 request payments.”
In other Colorado employment news…
The week after Christmas was brutal as new unemployment claims jumped 63% from the prior week — but maybe it wasn’t that brutal? The state labor department is blaming the spike on scammers making fraudulent claims for regular unemployment. (Read the story.)
Fraudsters are (again) taking stolen IDs or publicly available data, including addresses from for-rent and for-sale home ads and applying for unemployment. We’ll know soon how successful they were.
That may subside as the state installs the same fraud controls it has on the PUA system into the regular unemployment side. But be on guard — even if you currently have a job. I’m hearing crazy stories from people about this (ping me if you want to share yours).
And if you are a victim? File a fraud report with the state and if you got a ReliaCard in the mail, call U.S. Bank at 1-855-279-1678. All users should check their credit report with the three credit bureaus (weekly reports are free through April). More details at cdle.colorado.gov/fraud-prevention.
WHOOPS: This is moot now, but if you’re still wondering why you needed to request an unemployment payment on Jan. 3, here’s what happened with that.
SOCIAL FAKERY: Don’t share your personal info with just anyone. A suspicious Colorado Dept. of Labor Twitter account that emerged this week is definitely fake, state officials confirm. >> See tweet
→ RESOURCE REMINDER: For those unable to find work, please check out these resources for housing, food, bills and other help. >> Get help
More “free” PPP money
After the federal government put $525 billion in CARES Act money into the bank accounts of small businesses last year, more is on the way starting Monday for first-time borrowers, announced the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program. Banks can start accepting applications from second-time PPP borrowers on Jan. 13.
Despite stories of abuse, changing terms and rules, and some small businesses feeling shut out, the PPPs were deemed a success because they offered low-interest loans to small businesses affected by coronavirus restrictions. The Colorado Sun received a loan.
Of course, the real appeal of PPPs was forgiveness. If a business uses most of the money to pay employees, the loan turns into free money. As of Nov. 22, $38.4 billion has been forgiven with another $44.8 billion requests submitted by banks. Nearly 600,000 businesses have requested forgiveness.
In this new round, there’s $284 billion available. Terms have changed somewhat. To make sure very small businesses aren’t shut out, $15 billion is reserved for community-financial lenders who often work with business owners who don’t qualify for traditional loans. Another $35 billion is reserved for first timers and about $35 billion is reserved for businesses with no more than 10 employees.
Here’s what else you need to know:
- A business can borrow up to 2.5 times its average monthly payroll. Heavily affected restaurant and hospitality businesses can borrow 3.5 times.
- Eligible businesses were in operation as of Feb. 15, 2020.
- 60% of the loan must be used on payroll. The rest can be used on utilities, rent/mortgage and related interest, property-damage costs, supplier costs, personal protection equipment for workers.
- Money must be used within 8 to 24 weeks.
- Apply for loans through local banks, not the SBA. Here is a list of lenders by state.
- Expect updates at sba.gov/ppp
- Some SBA guidelines for first-time borrowers
- PPP application for first-time borrowers
For those hoping to score a second PPP, here are the rules for eligibility:
- Used up first loan
- No more than 300 employees
- Show that revenues dropped 25% in comparable quarters between 2019 and 2020
- Up to $2 million per loan
- Here are the rules for second timers
- PPP application for second-time borrowers
TIP: If you don’t have a bank because you’re self-employed or very small, look for a local Community Development Financial Institution. CDFIs work with small business owners who may not qualify for a traditional bank loan. Read about CDFIs and find one serving Colorado. Some CDFI’s offering PPP loans:
- Colorado Enterprise Fund: coloradoenterprisefund.org/Paycheck-Protection-Program
- DreamSpring: dreamspring.org
- 1st SouthWest Bank in Alamosa: fswb.bank
→ HELP ME: Are you planning to apply for another PPP loan? Still have concerns about it? Missed out on the first one or figuring out how to get it forgiven? Share your story with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
So, did you start a business?
This column shared some tips last week on how to start a business. It wasn’t about ideas but rather, the process — getting registered, finding a good name and other small business details. And if it’s a pretty good idea, then investigate participating in a business accelerator that often kickstarts a company toward faster growth.
A new one supported by the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade is looking for 10 woman-owned science- or technology-minded companies to join the Tech Venture Accelerator for Women. Beyond the usual business-training and mentoring, the program offers help with finding federal and state innovation grants. The 10-week virtual program has a free information session (RSVP here) Tuesday, Jan. 12 at noon. >> DETAILS
$3,500-$7,000 grants available: The city of Denver is accepting grant applications for local businesses severely impacted by COVID-related public health orders. There’s a list of eligibility requirements (posted here) including that businesses must be in Denver, with less than $2.5 million in revenue last year and have at least one full-time employee. Apply by 5 p.m. on Jan. 26. >> DETAILS
Aurora restaurants: Grants are available for up to $10,000 to Aurora restaurants who need help with rent, and payroll. The Aurora Restaurant Relief Grant Program is funded by $1 million in CARES relief funds and is open to restaurants, bars, breweries and caterers. Deadline to apply is Jan. 14. >> DETAILS
Thanks for reading to the end. As folks who email me know, I often reply. And while I can’t dig into personal employment files and fix your problem, your questions help inform my reporting and get answers when you can’t. Keep sharing and stay healthy everyone. ~tamara
This column was updated on Jan. 10, 2021 to note that the state’s upgrade to its unemployment system was completed. Additional PPP information and links was also added on Jan. 10.
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
Enjoy What’s Working? Keep it going with a one-time contribution >>
- Colorado labor department blames fraud for 63% spike in new unemployment claims
- Unemployed Coloradans may have to wait 2-4 weeks before getting more federal aid
- On Edge: In the wake of furloughs, closings, suicides, a Breckenridge businessman searches for balance
- What’s Working: Small business funding available, back to business in 2021, Colorado unemployment updates and more
- What’s Working: Colorado resources for the unemployed, those in need or those who’d like to support them
- Here’s how Colorado’s unemployed influenced the new federal coronavirus relief bill