Getting unemployment pay in Colorado was not problem-free this week. But after two months with no benefits for thousands, this week brought joy as money finally made it to bank accounts — and offered hope to others still waiting.
I’m talking about Kevin Saunders, the fellow from Parker who was crushed after reopening his claim on Feb. 1 only to be denied the next day for answering an eligibility question incorrectly. He’s now been paid!
“Just letting you know I finally got most of what is owed to me,” Saunders emailed on Thursday, more than three weeks after the issue appeared. A few December payments are still missing.
The problem that left him hanging caused a surge of denials. Colorado Department of Labor and Employment investigated, changed the way the question was displayed and added a warning to “only select if none of the above apply.”
Since Feb. 20, the state has paid $254 million to 135,000 people eligible for the so-called Phase 2 round of federal benefits that resumed after an eight-week pause. Nearly 23,000 people also filed an initial claim for unemployment last week, with about one third eligible for the gig-worker benefit called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
It may feel hopeless, but problems are getting discovered, acknowledged and some actually fixed (here are some of the glitches). Another success story comes from Karla Lebow, who emailed over the weekend that three weeks showed up with “Zero Claim Available Balance.” The extra 11 weeks of new federal benefits had not been added to her account yet. That, too, was a known issue this week and CDLE hoped to get fixed.
On Wednesday, she said she was paid the missing weeks, although now an overpayment has appeared.
“Not sure how that gets handled as it won’t allow me to do a payment plan under the ‘Manage Debt’ tab. I’m wondering if that will offset with this weekend’s payment basically getting early or something,” Lebow said. “Just wanted to give you an update. I didn’t receive any emails or notifications — just saw the balance in my checking account go up.”
For others, it was just getting their account unlocked. Soledad Balderrama, who’d heard weeks ago that an investigator needed to do a further review, learned what the hold up was: She had to confirm the name of the bank that her payments were sent to even though it’s the same one she used all last year. But then, another issue showed up Friday.
“There was no 11-week extension,” she emailed. “I am so confused.”
Glitches, errors and nonsensical issues are no fun for either side, but they especially tease people mentally, leaving them to wonder if the money is coming soon before rent is due again.
In further attempts to address this lack of communication, CDLE officials created a dashboard at uidailydashboard.cdle.co, Joe Barela, the agency’s executive director, said this week during a meeting with reporters.
“The dashboard will be updated daily with data points that include the number of claims paid, the amount of benefits being paid out, the call center workloads (and) also looking at some of the issues that we’re working on (like) payment delays or integrity hold issues with IDme,” Barela said. “We will hope it will be helpful to people trying to get answers to the questions of why perhaps some benefits may be stalled and what they can do to remedy that situation.”
On launch day, the colorful dashboard has some depressing news: Average time on hold for a call center agent? 1 hour and 13 minutes. See the latest stats HERE.
As of Friday, here’s what else the state has fixed or is in the process of fixing, according to Jessica Hudgins Smith, press secretary for the Division of Unemployment Insurance:
- Zero claim balance: Fixed a batch on Tuesday and Thursday, and a “final batch is running Friday to resolve.”
- Reappearing overpayments: “Fixed and checked nightly for any new issues.”
- Missing payments (including week of Dec. 27), denied Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims and “ineligible” on standard UI: Fixed.
- The extra 11 weeks added to everyone’s account: “PUA claimants will see the 11 weeks, but PEUC and (regular UI) claimants will need to exhaust their balances before seeing the next set of weeks appear,” she said.
I’m hearing from a lot of people still stuck with their accounts on hold, even after what appears to be a successful ID verification on the IDme tool. So I asked CDLE, what gives?
Most are cleared within two to three days. But, Smith said, “If we receive mismatched information this can take up to a week to clear,” which means what the person provided on IDme is different from what was reported to CDLE.
And if there’s other data that “still suggests the claim is potentially fraudulent,” an investigation is required to make a final decision, she said.
“This currently only impacts a small number, and we expect most to be deemed fraudulent,” she said. “Please note, there have been instances of bold fraudsters engaging the media and the Division to push through payment on fraudulent claims.”
Stop it, fraudsters! As many folks who’ve reached out to me know, I rarely loop in CDLE and never before I’ve traded multiple messages to figure out what the real question is. So to all those folks who don’t respond to my follow-up questions, good riddance!
→ Report poor customer service: CDLE rolled out a new form for users to report dropped calls, hangups and unprofessional call center representatives right HERE.
The 411 of unemployment
Back when I worked at an actual print newspaper, I would periodically get a call from someone asking something lazy like, “What’s the phone number of that store?” I would grimace, look it up and silently chastise the person for being too cheap to call the information hotline 4-1-1.
I feel similar, but different, with numerous 411-like unemployment emails in my inbox. It’s OK, though. My brain is full of PUA/PUEC/SEB and UI so if I can explain or point to a solution, I will. There are selfish reasons, too. I may use a person’s scenario in a future story. And please share your real name so if your case stumps me, I can ask CDLE.
But hopefully everyone remembers this: If you are relying temporarily on local news right now, that’s the value of having local journalists in your community. And The Colorado Sun is as local as it gets — we live here and our profits go back into Colorado and not to out-of-state investors. Our stories are free to read but not to report, so become a member if you can at coloradosun.com/join and also, spread the word!
Back to 411, here are a few questions I responded to this week (edited for clarity and typos):
Q: Is it possible to receive Colorado unemployment benefits beyond the 52 weeks? ~ Gene
A: Depends. PUA is capped at 50 weeks. But those on regular unemployment are up to 63 or more, according to my calculations. Here’s the breakdown, which is only for those on some form of regular unemployment:
- 26 weeks = Regular UI
- 13 weeks = CARES Act PEUC
- 11 weeks = PEUC2 from Continued Assistance Act)
- 13 weeks = SEB for those who tapped it last year and may be coming back soon
- X weeks = PUA was available for some people kicked out of SEB.
Next up: SEB should restart in March (more below) and the next federal relief plan in Congress — which has not passed yet — would extend federal unemployment benefits to Aug. 29 and pay a bonus $400 weeks to those on unemployment, at least according to the Friday version of the bill.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Saturday. It now moves to the Senate. (Updated Feb. 27, 2021)
Q: I can’t appeal the decision because you have to fax in paperwork to MyUI and the fax line isn’t receiving faxes. The line is busy. ~Summer
A: I just tried calling the appeals fax number 303-318-9248 and it answered! But if it’s not working for you, mail your appeal to: Unemployment Appeals Section, PO Box 8988, Denver, CO 80201-8988
You can also call 303-318-9299 or 800-405-2338 to discuss appeals procedures once the appeal has been submitted, CDLE says. Don’t forget to provide details about the problem you’re appealing.
→ Docked for forgiven overpayments? Variations of this question came in. If forgiven overpayments reappear that take money out of your weekly check, CDLE wants to know. Says Smith: “This shouldn’t happen until 27 days after the overpayment has been established. The forgiven overpayments popping up again is an issue that is being fixed every night.” If you’re docked before 27 days, let me know or call the unemployment line for help.
The return of SEB?
Nope. Not back yet. But for those following this closely, here are a few updates.
Colorado was kicked off of State Extended Benefits for 13 weeks on Nov. 7, though recipients didn’t feel the pain until Nov. 28 when payments stopped.
While an amazing amount of effort went into bringing SEB back, which did happen, so many SEB’rs applied for PUA as they were instructed. Returning to SEB would hit many of those new PUA folks with overpayments, so the state opted not to do that.
On March 6, those 13 weeks will be over. Our unemployment rate is higher (the main culprit of the initial abrupt ending) so a few weeks later, SEB would likely return.
But, answers Smith, don’t say hello SEB just yet. PEUC takes precedence and all eligible accounts got an extra 11 weeks to last through March 14 (actually March 13 in Colorado since the state’s claim weeks end on a Saturday). And by then, the hope is Congress will have passed a new relief bill.
“If Congress passes the current legislation, it would add 24 more weeks to that, meaning that no claimants would be eligible for SEB until 24 weeks after March 14, and only if SEB was still triggered on at that time,” Smith said.
Which, according to my calculations, would be March 28*.
*I realize I did not complete my line of thinking on the March 28 (thanks for pointing it out Linda). Back when SEB ended on Nov. 7, payments didn’t stop until three weeks later. If SEB returns March 6, then payments would start three weeks later, or on March 28. But SEB’s return appears unlikely with the new federal relief bill passing soon. (Updated Feb. 27, 2021)
→ Did you miss this? If you were on SEB but didn’t apply for PUA in December, you are in luck. The state plans to pay you PUA wages for that missing month between Nov. 28 and Dec. 26. However, the programming complexity proved too great for Phase 2. Expect it in a later phase, Daniel Chase, the agency’s chief of staff, had confirmed in an earlier story.
PPP now only for much-smaller businesses
Something strange happened this week. The whole Paycheck Protection Program changed. It’s now available only to sole proprietors, nonprofits and businesses with fewer than 20 employees. This ends March 10 and then reopens to larger companies until March 31.
Apparently, the decision to limit the federal loans to much smaller companies is from President Joe Biden in order to make the loans more equitable. Remember last spring when PPPs launched? Big businesses — the cap was 500 employees back then — went crazy for them, some applying for multiple $10 million loans for their different businesses. But it shut out a lot of really small businesses.
Why the fuss? They’re 100% forgivable if most of the loan was spent on payroll. (It’s true! The Colorado Sun received one last year and it has been forgiven.)
The key feature here that unemployed PUA folks should pay attention to: This is open to sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals.
Want to know more? Wondering if your sole proprietorship is eligible? Share your story and questions. I’m planning a deeper dive next week. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
→ The PPP stats: As of Feb. 21, 36,060 small businesses in Colorado have been approved for this current round of PPP loans for a total of $2.9 billion.
Thanks for tuning in for another week of unemployment and job news in Colorado. I don’t know what to write about if I don’t hear from readers, so holler! And if you missed an earlier unemployment story, check our unemployment archive. Keep me posted! ~tamara
This story has been updated since the original publish date of Feb. 27, 2021. Updates are noted within the text.
- 135,000 unemployed Coloradans get benefits after months of waiting. But thousands of others face glitches and denials.
- What’s Working: Lessons learned and tips for Coloradans as federal unemployment benefits start (hopefully) Saturday
- Jim Morrissey: The unemployment benefit shell game
- After eight weeks of waiting, nearly 300,000 Coloradans can reopen their unemployment accounts Saturday
- What’s Working: As exhausted Coloradans on unemployment wait for benefits, the next federal plan must pass soon to avoid delays
- Colorado unemployment claims spike as federal benefits restart. But fraud is distorting the picture.
- How scammers targeted Colorado’s unemployment system — and what the state is doing about it