DENVER — Colorado workers affected by temporary closures due to COVID-19 are eligible to receive unemployment benefits, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment announced Monday.
Gov. Jared Polis on Monday suspended dine-in services at all restaurants and bars in the state for the next 30 days, an order that could be renewed in a month. Takeout and delivery will be permitted under the order.
The rapid work stoppage has Colorado workers fretting about their jobs. But the state's labor department said employees who have seen their hours reduced or have been laid off because of new restrictions placed on businesses in Colorado may file an unemployment claim at coloradoui.gov.
The state's department of labor said Monday that so far, it has not seen a big spike in unemployment insurance claims but that it is expecting the number of people filing for it to increase in coming days and weeks.
“Unfortunately, a lot of workers have never been in this situation. This is actually one that we’ve not seen, even the Great Recession Pose different challenges than what we are seeing now. What we’re seeing is an indefinite time period Of workforce slow down or reduction in hours, temporary closures, and so our best guidance right now is to file for unemployment,” said Cher Haavind, a spokesperson for the agency.
On Tuesday morning, the unemployment file-a-claim application was "experiencing technical difficulties," the Department of Labor said.
"We understand this is an inconvenience and working to correct the issues. We appreciate your patience," the department said.
Who should file for unemployment?
Anyone who is working fewer than 32 hours a week and who is earning less than approximately 55 percent of their average wage over a 12-month time period are eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for unemployment, though, so for employees who are unsure whether they qualify for help, the best thing to do is apply to find out whether they are eligible.
There are three criteria for unemployment: the employee must be able and available to seek new work and actively seeking employment.
“Those three circumstances make this very unusual if you are in a quarantine situation where you’re not able to look for work nor do you really need to look for work because there’s a chance you’ll be returning,” said Haavind.
That’s why the labor department is looking at options to possibly waive the requirement for those who are unemployed to search for work.
“Some of the requirements around unemployment right now may not work with these scenarios that again we’ve never seen,” Haavind said.
In order to make that change, the labor department would need to pass an emergency rule to overlook the work requirement. Last week, the agency passed an emergency rule to require some industries to offer paid sick leave for employees with flu-like symptoms while awaiting COVID-19 testing.
Filing for unemployment can happen online or over the phone. Colorado employees have access to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance available to them. Congress is currently looking at a potential additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance.
The Family First Coronavirus Response Act would also help with SNAP benefits, among other things.
Traditionally, it takes between four and six weeks in a normal environment for a person who applies to be able to access the benefits. The agency is also looking at ways of speeding up those systems.
The labor department is holding off on issuing additional emergency rules, however, until Congress decides how it will proceed.
There is also information on other state-offered programs for those who are trying to make ends meet, such as rent assistance, through other human service organizations.
Other options for those seeking work
While many families are currently going through the process of applying for unemployment, another option might be to apply for a part-time or temporary job to help make ends meet.
Some grocery chains like King Soopers have announced that they are hiring. The chain even hosted a job fair over the weekend to hire new employees to help with the surge of shoppers it is experiencing.
A spokesperson for King Soopers says there are positions available in retail stores, manufacturing plants and distribution centers and that people could be able to start working within days of filing an application.
Safeway and Albertons, meanwhile, said they have more than 1,000 immediate openings in the Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and New Mexico region.
Meanwhile, Amazon says it is looking for about 100,000 new workers across the U.S. to keep up with the demand it is experiencing.
Across the state, some Workforce centers are open for walk-ins while others closed as the cities and counties try to contain the coronavirus.
The CDLE is encouraging people to apply for jobs or for unemployment insurance online. It is also hosting virtual hiring fairs online where people can see what jobs are available.
“Think of the skills that you have and then do some inventory either online or through ConnectingColorado.com or go into a Workforce center,” Barela said.
Employers can also ask for help
Employers are also struggling with trying to make ends meet as cities and states work to contain the coronavirus.
There are some special programs employers may be eligible for with the Department of Labor including a Work Share program option or having employers pursuing a job attached status that allows them to have workforce reduction options. The agency is also encouraging employers to use telework options for employees before using temporary layoffs.
The state is anticipating more funding for unemployment benefits if federal action is approved in a bill currently before Congress.
Denver7's Meghan Lopez contributed to this report.