There’s still a loooooong wait to process claims for the recently unemployed.
The 10-to-12 week delay that has been going on since at least July now has some claims taking “up to 16 weeks, depending on the complexity of the claim,” said Phillip Spesshardt, director of the Division of Unemployment Insurance at Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
That means thousands of people who lost their jobs this year are still waiting for the temporary assistance known as unemployment benefits.
How many? Spesshardt shared the details in an email:
That’s more than 8,000 people who’ve been waiting on claims for seven weeks or more. Still waiting as of Monday, Dec. 5:
- 1,892 claims between 11 and 12 weeks old need to be processed
- 6,361 claims between 7 to 10 weeks old need to be processed
- 3,261 claims between 5 and 6 weeks old need to be processed
- 3,623 claims between 1 and 4 weeks old need to be processed.
Blame the pandemic. Still.
Most Coloradans who lost their jobs in 2020 and 2021 got their unemployment checks much faster after Gov. Jared Polis ordered payments be made within 10 days. The state’s labor department still had to vet each claim — that’s federal law — but could pay first even if the later investigation found the claim wasn’t valid. The state also had to try to claw those payments back.
Investigating the old pandemic claims is what caused this year’s delay. In July, the backlog was 20,000 issues, down from 800,000 at the peak. Those are now resolved, Spesshardt said.
But now, with the governor’s order ended, the labor department returned to its pre-pandemic policies. They can’t pay unemployment benefits until a claim is confirmed legitimate. The claims that are still waiting are experiencing longer delays than before the pandemic because the agency couldn’t fully focus on new claims, since it also had to work on old pandemic ones.
“This is due in part to cascading delays from the pandemic, unresponsive claimants and employers, and a (unemployment insurance) staffing shortage,” Spesshardt said. “Federal law also requires that these claims need to be reviewed by people and don’t allow for automation of this process.”
The unemployment division continues to take steps to speed up the process. Spesshardt said they hired 20 new adjudicators to help clear the backlog, and increased production requirements for staff. The labor department is also trying to communicate better by using “plain language” so there’s no miscommunication by workers or employers on what CDLE needs. CDLE is also enhancing the technology so employers can respond electronically.
“We understand the impact these delays have on our customers, and we are working toward a goal of being able to process claims within 4 to 6 weeks by the end of March 2023,” Spesshardt said.
➔ TIPS FOR CALLING UNEMPLOYMENT: Call in the middle of the day. If you wait until the day’s end, the queue may be full and the call may not get through, Spesshardt said. Scheduling a callback is no longer available and agents are available only between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday at 303-318-9000. According to CDLE’s records, nonpeak business hours are showing 10-minute waits. Beg to differ? Share your story with firstname.lastname@example.org
Can’t pay your bills? Some resources
➔ Low income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP): This federally funded program helps low-income households pay a portion of winter heating costs. >> More information
➔ Temporary Rent and Utility Assistance (TRUA): The city of Denver offers assistance with paying rent or utilities for income-eligible households through TRUA. >> More information
➔ 211colorado.org: This all-purpose site organized by local United Way offices offers links to rent, utilities, employment and other financial support by ZIP code. Coloradans can also call 2-1-1 on their phone. >> Find assistance
HELP US: The Colorado Sun is looking to interview people from across the state who are struggling to afford their energy bills. Anyone interested in sharing their unique perspective should contact Tatiana Flowers at email@example.com by Dec. 16.
Why unemployment appears to be on the rise
Since September, the number of Coloradans filing for unemployment for the first time has risen nearly every week. While not everyone gets approved for benefits, the number of people who do collect regular weekly unemployment checks has similarly been on the rise.
The ups and downs of recent weeks have more to do with weather than a holiday, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the state’s labor department.
“The upward movements for those weeks you’re observing correlate to separate winter storms that covered most of the state during those periods,” Gedney said in an email.
New claims are far from pandemic levels but at 3,436 last week, that’s nearly double the 1,900 weekly average before the pandemic in 2019. Take a look at this chart graphing data from the U.S. Department of Labor:
Fall was a rough season for employees at many well-known tech companies, from Amazon to Twitter, where thousands of layoffs occurred. But Gedney earlier said it’s unclear whether the tech layoffs contributed to the changes. Tech workers have high-demand skills and tend to find new jobs quickly or get a severance so they don’t bother applying for unemployment benefits.
The tech sector also makes up a small part of the state’s jobs. The uncertain economy has impacted all companies and industries. This week, investment bank Morgan Stanley was reportedly laying off 2% of its workforce, or about 1,600 people. PepsiCo, which recently opened a new 1.2 million-square-foot manufacturing plant in Denver, reportedly cut “hundreds of jobs” at its headquarters in Purchase, New York, Chicago and Plano, Texas.
In Boulder, gene-editing company Inscripta notified state officials that it will layoff 43 people and close its facility by the end of January, according to its Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification letter. The company has raised more than $450 million in venture capital, according to investment-tracker site Crunchbase. That includes $125 million in 2019.
Michael Gonzales, Inscripta’s vice president of marketing, said the company is reducing operations in Boulder and San Diego and centralizing staff in the Bay Area, at its Pleasanton, Calif., office. The decisions in Boulder were especially tough, though. Some Boulder-based workers will be relocated to California.
“We came out of CU Boulder, a lot of our IP is connected to CU and those connections remain,” Gonzales said.
➔ Layoffs double for small businesses. At least that’s the conclusion for Alignable’s recent hiring survey of 6,908 small business owners nationwide. When asked if they’re having layoffs, 15% of the owners surveyed Nov. 19-Dec. 8 said yes, compared to 8% a month earlier. For Colorado, the rate is greater: 21% of small business owners said they plan to lay off workers, compared to 14% from the month earlier. >> Report
➔ HNA Live picks Denver for HQ: There are still a lot of jobs available in Colorado (103,283 on the state’s job board, as of Friday) and companies are still moving to the state. Data analytics company HNA Live, which serves the manufacturing and real estate industry, has 13 employees in six states (none in Colorado) and decided to put its headquarters in Denver. It will also receive a $164,284 tax credit if it creates 36 new jobs in Denver in eight years that have an average wage of $99,028, announced the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade on Monday.
Take this week’s poll:
Hey, employers and employed Coloradans, are there still good jobs really out there? Share what’s going on at your company by taking this week’s poll:
Other working bits
➔ $1.1 million owed to Denver workers: Not everyone who works in Denver received their fair pay. In a new Denver Auditor report, the auditor’s labor division recovered $1.1 million from employers to pay workers. Common mistakes included businesses that claimed the tip credit even though they weren’t in the food and beverage industry, businesses that paid less because they thought they were outside of Denver’s boundary and employers who were located out of town and didn’t comply with Denver’s wage standards. (Denver has the state’s highest hourly minimum wage of $15.87, which is increasing to $17.29 on Jan. 1.) An anonymous complaint resulted in getting a valet parking company to pay $48,163 to workers who weren’t getting minimum wage. But there are also workers the division has been unable to contact to pay owed wages. Are you one of them? >> Check the list; Submit a complaint
➔ How Colorado’s economy will fare in 2023: Predicting the future is tough, but economists do it anyway. Every year, local economists and industry experts put together the Colorado Business Economic Outlook, which is produced by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The 2023 report was presented Monday. Some predictions for 2023:
- Colorado will add 57,100 new jobs, down from this year’s 120,800.
- The state’s unemployment rate will hit 4.1%. It was 3.6% in November.
- Thanks to last year’s federal infrastructure bill, Colorado could invest another $4.4 billion in roads, bridges, broadband and other “nonbuilding” infrastructure in 2023. This year, the state invested $4 billion.
- The loss of federal pandemic assistance plus challenging weather conditions (i.e. drought) is devastating the agriculture industry. Economists expect Colorado’s net farm income to fall to $772 million in 2023, the lowest in 20 years.
- While manufacturing thrived in the pandemic — that includes Colorado’s top manufactured products like beer and cannabis products — that’s expected to slow next year as higher interest rates, inflation and the economy curb business spending and investment.
- The financial industry, which includes workers who service mortgages, is not having a good 2022. As interest rates rose, borrowing money became more expensive. This led to layoffs and employment declines that are expected to continue in 2023.
- Tourism has returned, as travelers at Denver International Airport can attest. That’s expected to continue statewide though companies will still have challenges hiring enough workers.
- Read the story and the report
➔ Are you being served broadband? Colorado has a chance to get more than the $100 million it’s allocated from the $42.5 billion federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. It just needs to make sure it knows where households have no or slow internet service with slow defined as speeds lower than 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. So far, the Colorado Broadband Office has challenged 13,000 locations on a new Federal Communications Commission map for inaccurate speeds or service. Check out your own address and make a challenge yourself. >> Story, Challenge the FCC map
Miss a column? Catch up:
- What’s Working: Behind the new fee many Colorado workers and employers will see in 2023
- What’s Working: Thanksgiving meal inflation is higher in Colorado than U.S.
- What’s Working: People with a felony record are getting more opportunities from Colorado employers
- What’s Working: Colorado’s job growth isn’t all that’s shrinking. So is its population growth
- What’s Working: Colorado is expected to follow the U.S. economy’s slight 3rd quarter growth
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column about surviving in today’s economy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with stories, tips or questions. Read the archive, ask a question at cosun.co/heyww and don’t miss the next one by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.
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