COLORADO SPRINGS — The economic impact of the coronavirus cannot be ignored. The number of people filing for unemployment is rising faster than the number of confirmed cases.
"It's a different level, and it's taken it to a much higher level, and it's a greater economic impact than we've ever seen before," said Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Executive Director, Tracy Marques. In Colorado, many unemployed workers and struggling small business owners are frustrated as they try to apply for government COVID-19 relief programs.
Employment professionals at the Pikes Peak Workforce center are now consulting virtually to help workers and small businesses navigate lay-off and unemployment questions. They partner with the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center that offers guidance in other areas like business loans. Both organizations offer direction, but the application process goes through Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment.
“Hundreds of thousands of calls coming into the state,” said Marques. Along with giving advice on unemployment and financial aid programs, her staff warns that applying for programs currently requires persistence and patience. "We know it's really frustrating getting through the states filing system. People are getting kicked off. They're waiting on the telephone for 45 minutes to two hours to get through." So many people have been applying through the on-line system, it has overwhelmed computers. For relief, the state went to assigning days for applying. It is designated alphabetically by last names.
Applicants concerned they are losing out on money during the application process can relax. Most benefits are retroactive to when closures and lay-offs happened.
To avoid unnecessary extra delays, Marques advises doing research and asking questions to get on track for benefits best suited for your circumstance. Under the heading of unemployment there is a long list of options. Some are new. "They're changing the data bases to handle, for example, self-employed, gig economy workers [who] are going to be able to file for unemployment. Never in the history of Colorado have they been able to file for unemployment." This benefit is one still coming on-line.
It is also important to be cautious. Scammers are looking for people who are impatient and looking for a short-cut. The state system assigns Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) for example. Scammers may use that to try for your personal information. “If someone says, you know, ‘Hey, I’ve got a four-digit PIN number for you. Give me your social.’ You don’t want to do that,” said Marques.
Right now, navigating the unemployment system is not quick, but you can avoid extra delays and scams with good information and a strategy. Links below can offer some guidance.