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COVID-19's impact on unemployment claims 'unprecedented,' Colorado's labor department says

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Posted at 2:36 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 11:26:25-04

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is calling the surge of unemployment claims “unprecedented,” and worse than the Great Recession.

Just Monday and Tuesday, more than 10,700 unemployment claims have been filed, overwhelming the system. Monday, 3,900 claims were submitted, and 6,800 claims were entered as of 10 a.m. Tuesday. In contrast, last Monday, only 400 claims were filed, the department said during a conference call Tuesday.

The state said that on Wednesday, between 8,000 and 10,000 successful claims were filed on the website.

The website where claims can be submitted was experiencing issues due to the overwhelming amount of claims filed in the past two days. Still, the department said the best way to submit a claim is through coloradoui.gov. They suggested to those submitting a claim online was to hit the “save and finish” button every five minutes.

Cher Haavind, a spokesperson for the agency, said what they are seeing now as far as the surge in claims is worse than what they experienced in the Great Recession, with one to two-day spikes in submissions this time around. The 2008 economic slowdown was a gradual increase in submissions.

“I think people are panicking and saying I need to acquire all the resources I can to survive the next two weeks of this indefinite or undefined period of time so they’re grasping for resources,” Barela said.

The spike in claims could be linked to Gov. Jared Polis’ announcement Monday when he suspended dine-in services at all restaurants and bars in the state for the next 30 days. Takeout and delivery will be permitted under the order.

The department says it is committed to helping every Coloradoan who needs help and its technical team is working hard to keep the websites up and running.

It’s also asking people to please have patience as their teams work to try to accommodate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

“We don’t know what the system can handle as far as the surge and so we’re learning as we go through this,” Barela 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 12 months 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. But on Tuesday, the agency said they are holding off on changes because they do not want to duplicate efforts made on the federal level.

The agency said they are watching a U.S. House proposal that would expand the Family Medical Leave Act, which would cover quarantined people and people who can’t work because they are caring for a child due to school closures, among other changes.

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.

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 Albertsons, 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.

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.

In the end, the most important thing Barela wants people to do is keep holding out hope and understand that CDLE is doing everything it can with the resources it currently has.

Polis, congressional delegation call for relief from Small Business Administration

On Monday, Polis sent a letter to the Small Business Administration calling for federal funding to give relief to the small businesses in Colorado affected by the fallout from COVID-19. The SBA has the authority to offer small businesses affected by COVID-19 low-interest loans of up to $2 million.

The letter specifically requests a Small Business Administrative declaration for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans for Alamosa, Baca, Denver, Eagle, El Paso, Gunnison, Jefferson, Larimer, La Plata, Las Animas, Lincoln, Logan, Pueblo, Rio Grande, Routt and San Miguel counties, in addition to the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal nations.

“Colorado’s small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and are woven into the fabric of our way of life. As a person who came to government from the private sector, I understand the challenges and hurdles entrepreneurs and small business owners face. We will get through this together and I urge the federal government to quickly approve our loan application so we can provide relief to the state’s small business community during this global pandemic,” Polis said in a statement.

Polis said he also spoke with Colorado’s congressional delegation about the needs and actions. The congressional delegation wrote to the SBA as well urging it to grant Polis’ request.

““The coronavirus is taking a toll on Colorado’s vibrant small businesses. With over 1.1 million Coloradans employed by small businesses, we must do everything we can to help Colorado’s workforce and quickly approve Colorado’s request for a disaster declaration,” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., said in a statement. “The Administration granting Colorado’s request would open the door for businesses and nonprofits across the state to access those funds and provide small businesses much needed relief.”