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COVID-19 puts strain on Colorado's unemployment

What to do for individuals, small businesses
COVID-19 & Unemployment: For individuals and small businesses
Posted at 12:22 AM, Mar 19, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS — Many people impacted by the sudden closures of a variety of businesses in Colorado are eligible for unemployment, resulting in around 8,000-10,000 applications filed with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) on Wednesday. Those with CDLE say that is a highly unusual number of people applying, but still, certain categories of people do not meet the requirements for unemployment benefits at this time.

To meet the current requirements for unemployment benefits, a person must be working less than 32 hours a week and earn less than around 55% of their average wage over the course of a year. For the most updated questions and answers about unemployment, visit the state's website, which also has additional information and resources on COVID-19.

One of the people who still does not meet the requirements for unemployment benefits at this time is Cianna Perkins, a nail technician at Honey Salon & Spa in downtown Colorado Springs. Perkins said last week, she was around 80% booked with clients, but this week, the majority have canceled without rescheduling. Perkins pays for her booth at the salon, making her self-employed. "We actually have to pay to be here to work, so if I don't have any clients, I still owe money," said Perkins.

Perkins is concerned for other people in her same position, like massage therapists or estheticians. Her husband works at a local brewery, meaning his job is also taking a hit at the moment. "If we can't work because we're not allowed to even be at our place of employment, not by choice, what incentives are they working on to help us?" said Perkins.

Those with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center said at the moment, they are still waiting on directives from both the federal and state levels to learn how to best help every group of people. "I think we'll see some changes at the federal level that are going to help address it. I hate to say it, it's patience," said Executive Director Traci Marques, when asked about people who are self-employed that do not meet the requirements for unemployment benefits.

News5 also spoke with a representative from CDLE, who said they do not have any relief plans right now for self-employed people. However, CDLE did say the state is looking at assistance through the Office of Economic Development.

Marques also said the normal unemployment procedures are still in effect at this time, and the Workforce Center has not heard anything about emergency availability just yet. However, the Workforce Center is using their rapid response services, and is holding virtual or over the phone office hours. Marques said they got around 200 calls on Wednesday, which is more than normal. While she does not work for the state office, which handles the filing of unemployment, she did say the biggest thing for people filling out the claim online is to save as often as possible, because some people have had the system lose all of their work. "Unemployment is overloaded. The state website, they never anticipated this many people applying for unemployment. Also businesses calling for information, they're overwhelmed right now," said Marques.

Marques also said if you plan to fill out the unemployment benefits claim online, give yourself extra time to do so. She said it normally takes around an hour, but now, it could be a bit more than that. Those with CDLE say the reason the website has had technical difficulties is because they have had to take it offline a handful of times, to try and increase the capacity it can handle. CDLE said their system has never seen this high of a volume in such a short period of time, and they are working on the website to make sure it can meet the demand.

Meanwhile, small business loans are on the way to states from the federal level, but each state first needs to be designated to get that money. Aikta Marcoulier, the executive director of the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, said Colorado has submitted everything it needs to, but now, we have to wait. "Worst case scenario is two to three weeks. We are hoping that is a lot sooner than that," said Marcoulier.

Marcoulier said the loans can be used for almost every small business, and even some private non-profits. She also said they have interest rates of 3.75%. Marcoulier said a business cannot fill out an application until Colorado has been designated to receive the loans.

However, Marcoulier says it's about what businesses do now, to gather all the financial paperwork they need before the applications for the loans are ready to be completed. "The application process can be super quick, but the businesses need to be ready, there's a lot of financial data they need to get in place... Tax statements from the last two to three years, profit and loss statements, understand your cash flow, have your narrative in place, such as 'I have clients in line and I have letters of intent.' Additionally, you have to know, do you have affiliates, do you have other business partners, because if you do, you need their tax documents too and their financial information. So, businesses can get ready now and have a quick access to an online form, it's actually become very easy to apply for these loans, but they need to be ready," said Marcoulier.

Marcoulier also said there are local efforts to help small businesses being developed. "Those efforts will be announced shortly, but I know in Manitou Springs, there's already an effort for low cost micro-loans, flexible pay, no interest," said Marcoulier.

Marcoulier stressed businesses find innovative ways to keep them afloat. "Many of these innovative ideas can still be implemented to keep your business moving forward afterwards... We've recovered once from three disasters in a row, we will recover again from this," said Marcoulier.

However, for those like Perkins, her questions may have to wait a little longer for answers. "No matter what, we'll get through this right now. It's still hard, it weighs on your soul and anxiety levels, to not know what's going on... Maybe future policies to make sure there's something in place, if something like this happens again," said Perkins, advocating for a solution to come out of the situation.

This Friday, there's a Small Business Emergency Response Roundtable, being held as a webinar. On Wednesday, Marcoulier said 250 people had already signed up, and they will limit the event to 1,000. If you would like to register, visit this link.

Small Business Emergency Response Roundtable
Small Business Emergency Response Roundtable.