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Pueblo woman gets unemployment benefits restored after contacting News 5 Investigates for help

Irene Fowler
Posted at 3:09 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 18:45:41-05

PUEBLO — From locked out accounts to never getting through to a live representative, we know many of you are frustrated with the state's unemployment office.

Irene Fowler struggled since January to get her unemployment benefits and contacted News 5 Investigates for help.

"I've worked all my life for this home," Fowler said.

After getting laid off from her state accounting job in November 2020, making ends meet has been tough for Fowler. However, getting her unemployment benefits she is entitled to has proven to be a bigger challenge.

Irene Fowler
Irene Fowler on the state's unemployment website

"I've called the 303 number (for the unemployment office), the 1-800 numbers and every number I can find on the unemployment system," Fowler said. "The unemployment web site is horrible."

Fowler says she received four weeks of unemployment back in December. Then in January, she got locked out from receiving future payments.

The available unemployment assistance shows up on her account, but she could not access it.

"I call and I get a virtual assistant that says they'll schedule a call back," she said. "At the end of it they say they have no open slots and they hang up on you."

As bills mount and Fowler faces the possibility of foreclosure, luxuries like being able to watch TV had to be put on hold.

"I always used to watch your news channel when I had live TV," she said. "My next thought is that if I contact the news, maybe there's something they can do."

Eric Ross
Eric Ross calling the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

News 5 Investigates took Fowler's case and reached out to the state's unemployment office by phone and email to share her issue with them.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment immediately opened up an inquiry into the matter. Soon after, Fowler's benefits were restored.

"Since we last talked, my benefits have been reinstated and I'm getting my unemployment every week," Fowler said in a follow up interview with News 5.

It appears the issue had to do with a simple mix up in how Fowler's named was spelled on her benefits. This likely resulted in a "fraud flag" being placed on her account.

Once we got this issue squared away, we knew we couldn't leave her without access to her favorite news station.

News 5 picked up a digital converter box for her and hooked it up to her living room TV so she can access free local channels and stay informed with the world.

Eric and Irene
Eric Ross walking Irene through how to use her TV that is hooked up to a new digital converter box

"I don't think I would have been in this situation I'm in right now had I not reached out to you Eric," Fowler said. "I think I would have been one of those angry people demonstrating on the steps of the Capitol saying where's my unemployment?"

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says it's doing its best to answer as many phone calls as possible while filtering out fraudulent unemployment claims.

During peak times, the unemployment office may not be available to answer the phone or immediately schedule a call back.

To reach the office via telephone, call 303-318-9000 or 1-800-388-5515.

For those needing assistance in Spanish, call 303-318-9333.

For the deaf and hard of hearing, you can call 303-318-9016 or 1-800-894-7730

Do you have a problem or issue you'd like our News 5 Investigates team to look into? Email us: News5Investigates@KOAA.com

FAQ's and Transparency report:

Q: Are you able to help me fill out my unemployment claim?
A: Unfortunately, KOAA cannot personally help you fill out your paperwork for unemployment. This needs to be completed by the individual impacted by unemployment.

Q: If I'm entitled to unemployment benefits and cannot get the money I'm owed, can you help expedite my case?
A: While we don't have the ability to expedite cases, if there's a simple error that can be fixed, we're happy to forward your case to the appropriate unemployment office personnel for review.

Q: I've been struggling to get my benefits for several weeks and I'm locked out of my account. Can you help?
A: If you've attempted to resolve your unemployment issue for more than 4 weeks without success, please email us and we'll walk you through what information we would need to collect from you in order to review your case.

Q: I'm having a hard time getting the benefits I'm owed. Can you help me if I don't wish to share my information for broadcast?
A: Due to the rise in unemployment fraud cases and our obligation to fact-check and verify individual cases before sending them off for review, we require in-person meetings and copies of all supporting documentation. We also require pre-recorded interviews related to your case which can be used for broadcast or obtained through a court-ordered subpoena.

Q: Where do I go for more information related to unemployment benefits?
A: Here's a link to the state's official web site. Please note that you should not enter any private or personal information on any site that does not belong to the state.

Q: I need to report unemployment fraud or a fraud case involving my personal name. Where do I go?
A: Click here for information on reporting fraud immediately.

Q: How do I know whether I qualify for unemployment benefits?
A: Typically, if you are unemployed or are 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. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there are additional benefits available for those who are self-employed, independent contractors, or gig workers. Please visit this page for more information

For more FAQ's on filing for unemployment, click here.