Summit County expected to start receiving state insurance, pandemic assistance payments soon
FRISCO — The coronavirus pandemic pulled the kill switch on Summit County’s economy, robbing the ski resort community of most means of making a living. The sudden and drastic economic shutdown has left Summit County workers in a land of confusion, with an overloaded state system and shifting guidelines adding to the pandemic anxiety being felt across the planet.
In an update posted on April 23, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported 67,334 initial unemployment claims filed during the week ending April 18, with 104,217 claims filed the week prior. That brings the total unemployment claims in Colorado to 279,199 in just four weeks.
The unemployment rate across the U.S., which was at a 50-year low before the pandemic took hold, is on track to reach a staggering 16% by September — leaving nearly 1 in 5 Americans jobless.
The initial surge of unemployment claims in Colorado overwhelmed the system, leading to reported delays in processing, lost applications and endless waits to speak to a human being for claim support.
Silverthorne resident Priscilla Balderas, a photographer, said it has been a nightmare working with the state’s unemployment system when the pandemic hit Colorado.
After having trouble getting the state’s unemployment insurance portal to process her claim, she tried to speak to someone at the state’s unemployment insurance call center, along with tens of thousands of other Coloradans. That led to a weekslong battle to get someone to process her claim.
In a single day, Balderas called the department over 200 times to try to get through to a human being. Past the first branch of a phone tree, she said she kept hitting a dead end with a recording saying the lines were too busy and the office could not take her call, and then a busy signal.
“It was frustrating, to say the least,” Balderas said. “I didn’t know what was going on, and there wasn’t a whole lot of direction about what was going to happen.”
Even when she was able to get through, after waiting on hold for over an hour, Balderas said she managed to file an application, but apparently it had been mishandled and got lost in the system and she was forced to go through the entire process again. Balderas said it took three weeks of trying before she was finally able to get her claim successfully processed.
State Rep. Julie McCluskie said that she was aware of the problems her constituents were having with the state’s system.
“There have been challenges with the system in part because the volume of people applying was so overwhelming,” McCluskie said. “The system and staffing were not designed for this level of need.”
McCluskie said the state had been working on shoring up the state’s unemployment insurance system, which has announced a doubling of staff over the past few weeks. The agency said it is much better equipped to handle claims and that payments have already been delivered after missing a previous deadline for payouts.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported it had paid out over $160 million to claimants over the past three weeks, with $74.1 million paid out during the single week ending April 18. To compare, the department said it paid an average of $8.7 million a week in claims during the weeks prior to the pandemic shutdown.
As of April 20, unemployment insurance payments will also go out to gig workers, independent contractors and others previously ineligible for unemployment insurance before the pandemic. The federal coronavirus relief bill, the largest economic stimulus package in history, provided money for a Pandemic Unemployment Compensation assistance program which provides unemployment insurance for those shut out of the regular system.
Unemployed workers in Colorado, both regular claimants and gig/independent workers, will also receive an additional $600 under a separate Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The payments are expected to be in most eligible claimant’s bank accounts or delivered within the next few weeks.
To see eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance and to apply for benefits under both state and federal programs, visit ColoradoUI.gov.
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