Struggling with your Colorado unemployment claim? We have some answers.
Fort Collins Coloradoan
After battling busy signals all morning, I finally heard those nine beautiful words: “Stay on the line and an agent will assist you.”
An agent? You mean, a person? Could it be?
The automated message continued on, rattling off a number to call for self-employed or gig workers, followed by robotic mentions of schedule C tax forms and issues with unemployment debit card balances.
OK, none of that applies to me. I’ll just hang on.
As the automated message seemed to come to an end. I held my breath — my entire morning leading to this moment. I was thiiiis close to getting my questions answered. There was an ever brief pause, then …
“We are experiencing very high call volume.”
No no no no no
“Please try your call again later.”
The automated message finished with one final plug for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s website, then a curt and robotic “thank you.”
In my head, I dropped to my knees and screamed toward the heavens. In reality, I probably just tossed my phone down. Either way, I felt helpless.
Like thousands of other Coloradans, I applied for unemployment benefits through the state’s unemployment division early last month. I’m lucky to still have a job, but my hours — and those of most of my Coloradoan colleagues — have been temporarily cut due to COVID-19.
FROM OUR EDITOR: Today, tomorrow and however long it takes, the Coloradoan is here
In the eyes of the state, I’m a partially furloughed worker. I’m also incredibly frustrated.
After weeks of confusion over why my unemployment claim wasn’t being paid, I found no answers to my questions on the state’s website. And after nearly a month of regularly calling in, I still haven’t gotten through to Colorado’s unemployment office call center.
I took to Reddit and heard from locals who were in a similar boat. After asking for unemployed or furloughed workers’ stories on Twitter, some emailed me back with woes of never getting their unemployment pin number, which is required for requesting benefits. I heard tales of crashing websites of missed payments and of just general confusion.
I felt helpless, yes, but I wasn’t alone. And as someone who is in the business of answering questions, that’s exactly what I set out to do. Here’s what I found.
What do I do if I can’t get through to the unemployment office’s call center?
If you’ve been in an endless cycle of busy signals and automated messages like myself, there actually is some hope. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment added a new call-back form to its website Thursday, allowing people to request a call from the state’s unemployment division within one to two business days. The bad news? The form is currently only available for individuals who need help filing an unemployment claim, though it might be expanded to handle other unemployment questions and issues, CDLE Deputy Executive Director Cher Haavind said.
If you need questions answered on an existing claim, CDLE has added a chatbot feature on its website to help users better navigate its unemployment FAQ page. The unemployment division’s call center — which has typically been open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday — has expanded to include Saturday hours from 12-4 p.m. Staffing at its call centers, including its main center and its new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), has nearly tripled, according to Unemployment Insurance Division Chief Jeff Fitzgerald.
Despite the additional call center support, Fitzgerald still urges people to use the CDLE website if at all possible. There, you can file for unemployment insurance while also managing your claim. If you are self-employed, a gig economy worker or independent contractor, you may be eligible for more specific Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), instead of regular unemployment benefits. You can file a PUA claim here.
“We recognize the demand is very very high right now,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the division has scrambled to catch up with the spike in unemployment claims that began in mid-March. Fitzgerald said his division is over that initial surge.
Don’t panic: Experts answer FAQs about unemployment if you’re laid off, furloughed
What if I never got my unemployment PIN?
An unemployment pin number is integral in the claim process, especially when it comes to requesting benefit payments. Typically, pins are sent out via the U.S. mail, but due to Colorado’s unemployment insurance division’s initial surge in claims, Fitzgerald admits the division’s system was overwhelmed and there were some subsequent issues with claimants getting mailed a pin. That process has since changed to allow pins to be sent out via email. If you’re filing a claim, be sure to include your email in your form so you get your pin as quickly as possible, Fitzgerald said. If you still haven’t received a pin, you can request one by filling out this form.
Why hasn’t my unemployment insurance claim been approved?
If you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do and still see a menacing “PENDING” under your claim status, there could be a simple fix. Make sure that you have registered for Colorado’s public labor exchange, which can easily be done online.
Photos: Businesses open doors as Colorado loosens restrictions under ‘safer-at-home’
Didn’t receive a benefit payment?
If you’re partially furloughed and still collecting wages from your employer, that’s a possible reason why you haven’t seen any unemployment benefits. If your reported wages exceed your weekly benefit amount — even if you are working less than 32 hours a week, making you a furloughed worker — you will not get unemployment benefits.
What about that extra weekly $600 benefit offered to unemployed and furloughed workers through the CARES Act? That started being paid to Colorado’s unemployed and furloughed May 20, but you won’t see it unless you have been deemed eligible through the state’s unemployment insurance division and are receiving state benefits. So far, more than 75% of the individuals deemed eligible for unemployment insurance since March 15 have received benefit payments, Haavind said.
Where’s the $600 check?: More states finally paying the extra federal unemployment aid
If your claim has been deemed eligible and your reported wages did not exceed your weekly benefit amount, you should see payments within 72 hours of your payment request, according to Haavind. If you don’t, Haavind urges you to call the unemployment insurance division at 303-318-9000 for the Denver Metro area or toll-free at 1-800-388-5515.
What if my benefits are overpaid?
Overpayment of unemployment claims is handled on a case-by-case basis as they’re all generally different situations, Fitzgerald said. Overpayment cases will continued to be pursued by Colorado’s unemployment insurance division, albeit to a lesser extent for the time being, he added. With the division refocusing most of its efforts on claim assistance, the number of staff dedicated to handling overpayments is temporarily decreased, but “we’ll bet back to processing that after we get through this surge,” Fitzgerald said.
What other help can I get?
While questions on unemployment claims must go through the state’s unemployment insurance division, the Larimer County Economic and Workforce Development department is also here to help. The department is equipped to answer some questions, as well as provide virtual employment counseling, virtual workshops and guidance for job seekers and local businesses. For virtual employment counseling or general questions, call 970-498-6600 or email email@example.com. For more information, visit the department’s website.
Inside the spike
Source: Colorado Department of Labor and Employment
Erin Udell reports on news, culture, history and more for the Coloradoan. Contact her at ErinUdell@coloradoan.com. The only way she can keep doing what she does is with your support. If you subscribe, thank you. If not, sign up for a subscription to the Coloradoan today.
This content was originally published here.