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Your questions answered: Unemployment benefits, mask requirements, Colorado COVID Relief Fund

Unemployment rates are rising across Colorado
Posted at 5:12 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 19:23:54-04

This week, Gov. Jared Polis participated in his second one-on-one interview with KOAA News 5 to answer your questions during this Coronavirus pandemic.

We appreciate all of you submitting your questions to us. If there's a question you'd can't find an answer to, please email Rebound@KOAA.com or News5Investigates@KOAA.com and we'll do our best to respond as quickly as we can.

Below is a list of frequently asked questions and answers. We hope this information will help you navigate through these difficult times.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS:

Q: I was recently laid off from work. What should I do?
A: You can file for unemployment through the Department of Labor and Employment by clicking here.

Q: I can't get through to the unemployment office. Can you help me?
A: Gov. Polis has acknowledged long wait times and issues connecting with a representative in the past. The call center is open Monday - Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 12 to 4 p.m. Calling first thing on a Monday morning or at the end of the day on a Friday may not be your best option. If you don't have success reaching a call center agent at those times, try calling during your lunch hour or at an "off peak" time. The state is adding staff to help reduce the backlog of calls. The unemployment office hotline # is 1-800-388-5515.

Q: What is the unemployment number for the deaf and hard of hearing?
A: That toll free number is 1-800-894-7730.

Q: Is there a Spanish line for the unemployment office?
A: Yes. That number is 1-866-422-0402

Q: I'm eligible to receive the extra $600/week benefit under the CARES Act. What do I need to do to get that?
A: The $600/week additional payment will be added to your regular benefit when you request payment on your claim. You do not need to take any action other than continue your regular payment request process. These benefits are retroactive to March 29, 2020.

Q: How do I know if I qualify for unemployment benefits?
A: If you are unemployed or working fewer than 32 hours a week and earning less than the weekly amount that unemployment benefits pay, you can file a claim for unemployment benefits. If you are a traditional employee whose employer takes taxes out of your paychecks and reports your income on a W-2 tax form, you should file a regular unemployment claim. Whether or not you qualify to be paid is determined based on statements from you and any employers you worked for in the last 18 months. Even if you do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits, you may be eligible for the expanded benefit programs available through the CARES Act. You will be notified if that happens.
If you are self-employed or are a 1099 or gig-economy worker who receives a 1099 tax form for your income, you should file a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claim. Whether or not you qualify is determined based on the requirements of the CARES Act passed by Congress.

Q: What if I tested positive for COVID-19 and am quarantined?
A: Typically, to receive regular unemployment benefits, you must be able and available to return to work for your employer. An emergency rule went into place requiring employers in certain industries to pay up to four days of sick leave. A federal law also goes into effect on April 2 requiring many employers to pay sick time. Please check with your employer first. If your employer is exempt from paying emergency sick pay or extended family medical leave, you may be eligible for expanded unemployment benefits.

Q: What if I have flu-like symptoms and my employer or a health official asked me to self quarantine?
A: Typically, to receive regular unemployment benefits, you must be able and available to return to work for your employer. If your employer is exempt from paying emergency sick pay or extended family medical leave, you may be eligible for expanded unemployment benefits.

Q: How much does unemployment pay?
A: Unemployment benefits are approximately 55 percent of a person's average weekly wage over a 12-month time period. The maximum benefit amount available is $618 per week. In addition to your weekly benefit amount, the CARES Act made an additional $600 available each week you receive unemployment benefits from 03/29/2020 to 07/25/2020. You must request payment of unemployment benefits and receive payment to receive the additional $600.

Q: How long before I receive unemployment?
A: It may take as little as 2 weeks but as many as 6 to complete the processing, depending on how many employers are a part of the claim.

Q: Will the department waive the weekly work-search requirements?
A: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is waiving the requirement for claimants to perform work-search activities. Claimants must still register for work at connectingcolorado.com or with a local workforce center if the office is accepting in-person customers.

Q: What do I have to do to get the extra $600 each week added to my unemployment payment?
A: You have to request payment on your normal schedule. If you can be paid any amount of unemployment in a week, the state will also pay you an additional $600 for that week. The payments will be made for any weeks between March 29, and July 31, 2020. If you received payment for weeks of unemployment going back to the week beginning March 29, the state will back pay you for that week. This benefit is called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

Q: My benefits are exhausted. How do I get an extension?
A: The federal CARES Act added 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to any claim that ran out of benefits. These added 13 weeks can be paid between 03/29/2020 and 12/26/2020. The state is still adding these benefits to their system and are not yet ready to pay them. If you have been requesting payment, continue to do that as scheduled. The state will add the benefits to your claim. You may also try to file a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claim.

Q: Are tips included in the calculation of my wages for unemployment benefits?
A: Tips are considered wages and should be included in your wages reported by your employer. When you file a claim, the state will send you a notice that shows your reported wages.

Q: Do I include tips when I report what my rate of pay is when I file an unemployment claim?
A: Tips are considered wages. Report your rate of pay including your hourly rate plus average tips. You can calculate that hourly, daily, or weekly, whichever makes the most sense based on your job.

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TEMPORARY CHANGES TO UNEMPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS:

Q: Will I have to serve a waiting week?
A: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is waiving the standard waiting-week requirement before benefits can be paid. This waiver applies to all claimants regardless of the reason for filing for any waiting week not yet served as of 03/15/20 and later until the Governor’s Executive Order expires.

Q: Will I be required to look for work even if my employer has promised me my old job back as soon as the business is reopened?

If you are unemployed because your employer is closed to the public or otherwise unable to operate in their normal capacity as a direct result of an order by the Governor because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be job-attached for as long as the place of business is required to remain closed. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is waiving the requirement to perform work-search activities.

Q: What will be the effective date of my unemployment claim?
A: A claim is usually effective based on when you file the claim. In this case, your claim is effective based on the day you stopped working or when your hours were reduced as a direct result of COVID-19.

Q: How do I increase my unemployment benefit amount?
A: Unemployment benefits are based on your average weekly wage during a 12-month period. Typically, if your wages are correct, your weekly benefit amount will be about 55% of your average wage and cannot be changed. As previously mentioned, the CARES Act allows for an additional $600 to be paid to you each week you receive an unemployment payment for weeks beginning 03/29/2020 and ending 07/25/2020.

Q: What happens after I file a claim?
A: The unemployment office will send you a personal identification number (PIN), which you must use to access unemployment benefits and services. Use this PIN to create your MyUI Claimant account at https://myui.coworkforce.com/Registration
-MyUI offers 24/7 convenient online access to your claim, fast and secure payment request, and answers to many questions about your claim.
-You can also use the PIN to change your payment method to direct deposit.
-Request payment every two weeks: To receive payment, you must request it online through MyUIClaimant or via telephone.

Q: I filed my regular unemployment claim two weeks ago and I still don't have a PIN. How can I request payment?
A: Because of the high volume of claims being received, it is taking the state longer than usual to send the PIN and other paperwork. THe office asks for your patience and that you wait for the PIN to arrive. You will not miss out on any weeks of payment based on the delay and will make sure measures are in place for you to request payment for all weeks you are not working. Once your PIN is generated, the state will email or call you with it.

Q: What do I do if my employer received money for the Paycheck Protection Program and is paying me wages?
A: You have to report the income as earnings for any weeks you received payment from your employer. If your employer is back paying you for weeks that you also received unemployment benefits, you must contact the state to report that backpay. If your employer is paying you for weeks that you have not yet received unemployment benefits, stop requesting payment for the weeks you are getting paid through the Paycheck Protection Program. You can reopen your claim if you have not returned to work for your regular schedule and the employer cannot continue to pay you.

Q: What is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?
A: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act took effect 04/02/2020. This act of Congress provides paid family medical leave and paid sick leave for employees directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither of these benefits are paid through state unemployment insurance programs.

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STIMULUS CHECKS: WHERE IS MY MONEY?

According to the IRS, tax filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns will receive the full payment. For filers with income above those amounts, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the $75,000/$150,000 thresholds. Single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible. Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are otherwise not required to file a tax return are also eligible and will not be required to file a return.

Eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2019 or 2018 will automatically receive an economic impact payment of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples and up to $500 for each qualifying child.

Q: How will the IRS know where to send my payment?
A: The vast majority of people do not need to take any action. The IRS will calculate and automatically send the economic impact payment to those eligible. For people who have already filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS will use this information to calculate the payment amount. For those who have not yet filed their return for 2019, the IRS will use information from their 2018 tax filing to calculate the payment. The economic impact payment will be deposited directly into the same banking account reflected on the return filed.

Q: I am not typically required to file a tax return. Can I still receive my payment?
A: Yes. The IRS will use the information on the Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099 to generate Economic Impact Payments to recipients of benefits reflected in the Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099 who are not required to file a tax return and did not file a return for 2018 or 2019. This includes senior citizens, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are not otherwise required to file a tax return. Since the IRS would not have information regarding any dependents for these people, each person would receive $1,200 per person, without the additional amount for any dependents at this time.

Q: I have a tax filing obligation but have not filed my tax return for 2018 or 2019. Can I still receive an economic impact payment?
A: Yes. The IRS urges anyone with a tax filing obligation who has not yet filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 to file as soon as they can to receive an economic impact payment. Taxpayers should include direct deposit banking information on the return.

Q: I need to file a tax return. How long are the economic impact payments available?
A: For those concerned about visiting a tax professional or local community organization in person to get help with a tax return, these economic impact payments will be available throughout the rest of 2020.

State-Capitol-Building1.jpg
State Capitol Building

HELP COLORADO NOW FUND:

The state of Colorado has set up a relief fund to help small businesses, nonprofits, local governments, school districts and more in the wake of the spread of the novel Coronavirus. If you weren't able to receive federal aid or still need assistance, you may wish to look into this program. The first two deadlines have already passed. Another deadline is coming up May 2, followed by May 16 and May 30.

If an organization is funded in the first two deadlines and funding is still available, they may reapply 30 days after expending the received funds.

Q: What is the criteria for receiving funding?
A: Community-based organizations in Colorado who are eligible to apply must meet the following three criteria areas: 1) organization type, 2) populations served and 3) alignment with one of the Fund’s three funding priority areas of Prevention, Impact and Recovery. See the section called Eligibility and Funding Priorities for details on each criteria area. Applicants may apply for any open funding priority category.

Q: If an applicant uses a fiscal agent that is a 501(c)3, would it be eligible?
A: Yes. Nonprofit organizations, local government, school districts and small businesses who are serving areas of the state with limited nonprofit capacity and/or serving a community need resulting from the COVID-19 crisis are eligible.

Q: Are church food pantry's eligible?
A: Yes. Nonprofit organizations, local government, school districts and small businesses who are serving areas of the state with limited nonprofit capacity and/or serving a community need resulting from the COVID-19 crisis are eligible.

Q: Are small municipalities eligible?
A: Yes. Nonprofit organizations, local government, school districts and small businesses who are serving areas of the state with limited nonprofit capacity and/or serving a community need resulting from the COVID-19 crisis are eligible.

Q: As a grantee of the fund, what am I required to report?
A:All grantees must report back by November 30, 2020 on the number of people served and a narrative about how the funds were used. Applicants will receive a reminder email through the Fluxx grantmaking system and will asked to submit a short report answering these questions in Fluxx.

Q: How much funding may an eligible organization apply for?
A: The maximum grant size is $25,000. This may increase or decrease over time, depending on funds raised.

Q: Will funds be awarded for less than the amount requested?
A: It’s possible. Because requests exceed available funding, the Decision and Allocation Committee must make tough decisions to meet the most pressing community needs.

Q: How long will it take to receive the funds once our grant request is approved?
A: Mile High United Way will disburse funds within three days of receiving list of decisions from the Decision and Allocation Committee, but no later than 14 days from the application deadline.

Q: How can the grant funds be used?
A:All funds disbursed will be general operating, unrestricted support. Funded applicants will have full discretion to use the dollars as needed, within the scope of the fund.

Q: Will there be funds available after May?
A: The intent is to continue replenishing funds as long as the Governor’s office deems it necessary.

For more FAQ's related to the Help Colorado Now fund, click here.

You can also email helpcoloradonow@state.co.us.

MASK REQUIREMENTS:

Many of you have asked for clarification on the Governor's orders requiring face masks.

Q: Do all employees have to wear face masks right now?
A: All employees on-the-job must wear a protective layer over their mouth and nose.

Q: Do customers have to wear face masks?
A: Gov. Polis has encouraged everyone to wear face masks, but there is no mandate at this time that requires customers wear masks. However, Gov. Polis said that stores can create their own policies and require customers wear masks. Costco recently made this change.

Q: I witnessed an employee not wearing a mask at a restaurant. What should I do?
A: You should report potential health violations to your county health department for further investigation.

DISCLAIMER: The information posted above is accurate as of April 30, 2020. Please keep in mind that the COVID-19 sitaution is rapidly changing and new policies, rules and procedures may replace or modify existing information posted on this page. All information provided was obtained from the state's unemployment office, IRS and Gov. Jared Polis.