Today’s column is pure, unadulterated unemployment news. For those who don’t care about that, come back next week where I hope to return to also discussing jobs, work and small-business news.
But first, one small business update: as of Jan. 24, 6,812 small businesses in Colorado were approved for $664 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans. Find out more details on how to apply at the Small Business Administration’s site or email me.
Now getting back to the topic of the week (and pretty much all past weeks): The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said the first phase of pandemic payments will start Sunday.
But Sunday only includes anyone collecting regular unemployment for the past five weeks. These are the folks whose benefits never stopped when the CARES Act ended and the new Continued Assistance Act passed. They’re on normal state unemployment. The federal bonus will automatically start Sunday, paying $300 per week for all eligible weeks since Dec. 27. Called the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, the $300 lasts for 11 weeks.
On Monday, another group of people can reopen their pandemic claims. This includes 230,000 people who still had Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation left when benefits expired on Dec. 26.
There were cries of joy and frustration from email recipients — and those who didn’t get the email — and, as usual, a lot of questions about who gets to return to unemployment and when. (Didn’t get an email? Don’t give up! More below.)
I understand why answers to specific questions are difficult for the Department of Labor to provide efficiently. Even after spelling out the four-phase roll out last week, I’ve been bombarded with other possible scenarios asking “What phase am I in?”
We should know how it turns out — or doesn’t — within a few weeks, so anxiety is one’s worst enemy right now. And I get it. My heart aches for those in despair who’ve been waiting five weeks since their last payment — nine weeks if they were cut off from State Extended Benefits (SEB) on Nov. 28.
So, let’s go over what is known:
Phase 1: Started
Regular UI (unemployment insurance): Those currently on regular UI should start seeing their $300 FPUC payments (retroactive to Dec. 27) sent to their bank on Sunday.
PUA/PEUC: Those with unused benefits on Dec. 26 can reopen their account on Monday, certify eligibility for weeks back to Dec. 27, and payments (including the $300 weekly bonus) will be sent to the bank that night. If you got an email from the state, go in today to determine whether you’re eligible for regular unemployment again. If you’re not eligible, you can reopen your pandemic account on Monday. (Note: The state sends all payment requests each day to the bank but if the file is too big, the overflow will be sent the following day.)
→ Trick question: If you were on SEB when it ended on Nov. 28 and then applied for PUA as you were allowed to do, what happens now? You are in Phase 1 and can reopen your account on Monday, certify for back weeks to Dec. 27 and get paid. When Phase 2 opens, your account will automatically adjust to PEUC, with past PUA weeks converted to PEUC so “the programs pay out in order.”
Phase 2: No ETA
Exhausted PUA/PEUC: Those who used up their benefits by Dec. 26 will be invited back to reopen their accounts when the system is ready.
First-time PUA/PEUC: Never applied or received this benefit before? First-timers are included in Phase 2. This would include anyone on regular UI who exhausted their benefits after Dec. 26.
SEB: If you were on SEB but didn’t apply for PUA, you must wait for the email to reopen your account in Phase 2. Since SEB are people who used up their PEUC benefits last year, they will just return to the PEUC program for 11 more weeks of benefits, plus the $300 weekly bonus.
→ Some perspective: With the first payments being sent Sunday (Jan. 31) and the first pandemic users allowed to reopen their claims on Monday (Feb. 1), the Department of Labor hit its deadline exactly. Back on a Dec. 18 call with the media, Deputy Director Cher Haavind said out loud that benefits won’t start until “likely later in January or into February.”
FYI: The Department of Labor has several new pages on its site including:
What about those 230,000 emails?
On Thursday, the Department of Labor emailed 230,000 people who had PUA or PEUC balances. But by midday Friday, department officials told me only 41% had been opened.
Say what? That means the majority — 138,000 — haven’t been opened!
While I have immersed myself in the unemployment world lately, my background is as a technology journalist. So, I thought I’d round up some tips on what could be the cause of those missing emails. If you think you should have received Thursday’s email, here are a couple of things to check:
- Your inbox, obviously. Search for the subject line: “How to reopen your PUA or PEUC claim”
- Your spam folder, obviously. This is separate from the ‘Trash” folder, but check that, too.
- If you forward your unemployment email to a catch-all like Gmail or Outlook, check the spam folder for the webmail online. Companies like Earthlink and Comcast have added filters that don’t forward messages already marked as spam.
- By default, Gmail and other services don’t display all emails. To see all of them, press the “More” in Gmail’s left column and look for “All.” The “more” also reveals the “spam” folder, which I helped one reader find and — lo and behold — there were all the messages from CDLE.
- If you use a company or private domain, the CDLE messages may be getting blocked. Let your ISP or mail provider know.
- It never hurts to search “missing emails” and your mail service. Here’s what Google has to say about missing messages.
- You weren’t eligible. See Phase 2 above. If you do think you are eligible but didn’t get the email, you can always try calling 303-536-5615.
BUT … if you didn’t get that email, you’re welcome to try anyway, the Department of Labor told me when I asked the question.
“They certainly can try,” said a CDLE spokesperson. “They’ll be able to file a new claim only if they see ‘Apply for Standard UI Benefits’ when they log into their account. Then, on Monday, they’ll be able to reopen only if that option is available.”
There could be other issues beyond a user’s control. If anyone out there finds the missing emails in a different way, let me know where they were and I’ll add to the list.
→ Can’t pay rent? There’s state money available for rent if your income was impacted by a job loss in the pandemic. Lots of details in this story: A national eviction ban will help Colorado renters stay housed until March 31, but there are asterisks
Fraud and ID.me
In the past week, the message for accounts with “program integrity” holds (a confusing term signaling your account was flagged for fraud) has been blaring at the top of ColoradoUI.gov. (And if you have one, call 303-536-5615, Monday–Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
There are still thousands of accounts that aren’t able to make a claim because the accounts were flagged for fraud, which could be as simple as more than one person on unemployment sharing an address.
That’s where the new tool ID.me comes in. As mentioned earlier, the app helps verify a user’s ID even to the point of a live chat so the person can prove they are who they say they are.
Questionable accounts are sent a link from the labor department to start the verification process. If you get one and don’t use it or complete the process, you won’t get approved.
It seems to be working.
As of Thursday, of the 5,140 users sent ID.me links who started the process, only 28%, or 1,428, completed the process. That leaves more than 70% who didn’t have time to finish it, don’t want the money anymore or, presumably, are fake.
But we’re just starting. California, which has been using ID.me since October, has already prevented “tens of billions” in fraud claims after moving to ID.me, according to a press release from California’s Employment Development Department. Hall, quoted in the release, said ID.me blocks $1 billion of fraud per week for all of its customers, which includes Colorado. The fraud rate for new claims is 35%.
If you have an integrity hold, call the number above. Getting through may be difficult, but right now, that’s all the advice CDLE is offering.
Not everyone’s phone can handle apps, and some people have shared that they no longer have cellphone service. What next?
ID.me’s founder and CEO Blake Hall said the service also works with landlines and flip phones (plus a password). While 90% of users are able to use the automated process, which takes about 5 minutes, the remaining 10% must do a video chat with a “Trusted Referee.”
“The video chat verification can be completed on a device that you borrow from a friend/family member or one that is available at a public location, like a library or a local unemployment office near you,” Hall said in an email. “By shrinking the line down to the remaining 10%, we enable our state workforce agency partners to provide white-glove concierge service to those applicants who are in most need of assistance.”
A spokeswoman from the Department of Labor said that the number of people in Colorado who don’t manage their claims online is less than 3%, which could still be a few thousand people considering there were 277,616 people on unemployment on Dec. 26.
“Claimants who have technology issues should contact our call center where agents will capture their information. They will then be contacted by a member of our staff to evaluate their hold,” labor officials said.
For those with no phone, no computer and no internet (sigh), the state is “working out the details of other possible options, but those processes have not yet been fully defined.”
→ Check out the library: Some local libraries loan out hotspots for free, just like you’d check out a book. The Denver Workforce Center teamed up with the public library to loan out 400 computers and wireless modems to unemployed residents. Details, plus other internet options, are listed in this resources column.
Taxes and unemployment
It seems like a double whammy to be out of a job and have to pay taxes on unemployment benefits. But it’s long been a thing.
The latest development is reports from people who are now getting their 1099 tax forms that show way more income for 2020 than their calculations of unemployment benefits. I’m no expert but Erin Joy Swank, who voluntarily helps moderate a private Facebook group for unemployed Coloradans, knows all about this. She’s had a mix of income for years and been on/off unemployment when seasonal jobs aren’t available.
People need to count all the benefits, says Swank, and that includes the $600 weekly payments last summer, the $300 Lost Wages Assistance payments, the $375 “Polis stimulus,” plus any payments from 2019 that weren’t paid until 2020.
She explains this and other tax issues at “Taxes and Unemployment – Is My 1099 Correct?”
The diverse and often complicated scenarios of unemployment continue. I keep pointing to this private Facebook group for unemployed Coloradans because people are sharing their scenarios and others are voluntarily responding with answers. You can join them here but do be considerate and read the pinned announcements before asking a question.
I still try to respond to messages but if you really want to make sure I see them, put “What’s Working” in the subject line to keep me organized. If you want to be reminded of this column each week, sign up at coloradosun.com/getww to get via email. Until next week! ~tamara