Today, a very constructive meeting was held with myself of Colorado Unemployment/PEUC/PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) Q&A Facebook group and a representative of the group DOES COLORADO CARE? Unemployment support. From the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment, it included Executive Director Joe Barela, and four other staff members, many of whom will be familiar to those who watch their Press Calls with reporters.
CDLE will absolutely make a commitment to better communication, with the encouragement that it be available to everyone, not just someone in any given Facebook group. This meeting today is to be only the first of hopefully clearer lines of communication with broad issues we are facing. It was highly expressed that any information and communication, even if not the news we’re looking for, is better than being left in the dark.
To implement this, they will be creating a “dashboard” somewhere tangential to the website, with a hopeful goal of the end of the week with the most basic of information, and then continuing to add information. Goals for it include:
- A list of known issues/glitches, and as possible, a timeframe on the fix, such as the following they are aware of (EDIT: and yes, this means do not give up yet on receiving payments denied by these issues!):
- Note - some of these are because they are doing TEMPORARY FIXES FOR PHASE 1, planning to fully attend to it for Phase 2….so if things change, and change back, it’s because something new threw off the temporary fix
- Those who cannot claim for 12/27 to 1/2 - primarily an issue for PEUC who requested 1/3 - NO ACTION IS REQUIRED BY CLAIMANTS AT THIS TIME
- Overpayments that were forgiven in past, but have shown up again - they believe they have attended to most of these, but again, temporary and may magically come back - don’t freak out
- EDIT: I have asked for further information about NEW overpayments.
- Those in PUA who were denied that first week with the awkwardly worded question (No, I’m not sure of the process yet for the people who again answered incorrectly in a future week. No, I don't know whether you are supposed to appeal or not, or if that causes more issue. If you haven't done it yet, hold off making an appeal.) That said, we do know there’s not a great option for those from PEUC now on PUA. Pick the closest one - my recommendation is the self employed one that says severe reduction - but DO NOT CLICK THE FINAL OPTION, OR YOU WILL NOT BE PAID
- EDIT: This is not the ONLY list of known glitches, we need to see what CDLE adds to it. If your issue is not listed here, I may not know anything about it but they may be very aware.....
- A dedicated Continued Assistance Act alert page, with stronger explanations of phases (more below)
- Robust FAQs (work in progress), with visuals or links as possible [EDIT to include the following bullet points I have suggested]:
- Advice to turn off pop-up blockers, which browsers are known to work, which aren’t, including mobile
- Advice to “wait overnight”
- How to find work search requirements (they're hidden at the bottom of Contact Information), and explain what red asterisks mean, along with a link to what counts as an activity, and pointing out it’s not just about sending resumes; instructions on connectivity to Connecting Colorado, including adjusting the drop down after new PEUC claim and/or after 27 weeks
- Link to Fraud Forms, one if you are trying to claim unemployment and someone already has, one if you don't want unemployment and found out someone has applied in your name
- Link to Integrity hold Form
- How to do ID.me if don’t have a phone (are workforce centers an option?), how long it should take to clear and when to follow up if haven’t received a result (some are waiting over a month); why not to do it early
- NOT to do any process early unless asked, as it may show a false confirmation/completion
- 1099s - expected date to be online, explanation that it includes FPUC, LWA and Polis Stimulus, why you may have received more than one (MYUI vs PUA, but also “corrected” PUA - and what TIN is correct: 84-0802678 with State Box 10b of 23-86309 for MyUI and just 08 for PUA); include information about how to change withholding for the present claim [See more of my blog post on all things 1099s and Taxes]
- As many visuals as possible, including the “claim toggle” and “hamburger menu” explanations that can’t be figured out by words
- Do not “tab” between choices when filling out weekly certification, as it may CHANGE your answers
- Glossary of Myui+ terminology. People don’t understand the words used on screen and in correspondence. Plain language explanations. DEFINE TERMS: *Issue Type, *Status, and *Level columns;
- On Payment history screen *Payment States (for example, what is the difference between payments that are "Denied" and "Pending Issues".
- Links to any specific FAQs on the main website
- The same FAQs that appear at the beginning of a weekly certification - list those elsewhere too
- Appeal information
- Information about contacting Workforce Centers as an option
- If at all possible, a list of when callbacks are available, and when they are not (so you don’t have to do 5 steps in virtual assistant to find out they’re not)
- An explanation of the scary “Double Dip” form - this is ensuring that someone didn’t make $2000 since they last filed [EDIT: their yearly claim date, not the next base period start date], and can thus STAY in the pandemic extension programs; the date does indeed go from the claim date, and not the end of the previous base period (another quarter earlier) - I had my own questions about this.
- The complete lack of communication with those on State Extended Benefits has been addressed. They will look to creating better communication regarding this program, likely heading into this part of the website, so that individuals aren’t lost in email lists. I myself am someone who has not received an update on SEB since December 18th, and highly thank Tamara Chuang of the Colorado Sun for being my constant digger of information on this topic. EDIT: FYI, SEB is Phase 2.
- Moderators of the two Facebook groups will be given the first glance to provide advice, as well as remain in contact about recurring issues, as a Claimant Advisory group
We discussed much frustration with the current call center, not just about the wait times. Here are some goals for it:
- A reporting form [EDIT: for the new dashboard] if someone is hung up on, or otherwise has an issue after they get through to a rep; this will be easier than a dedicated decision to have the rep immediately call you back - and you would report the time of day, etc, to track; EDIT - for now, I recommend noting the date/time and name if possible, and reporting your information in the MyUI+ Experience Survey - the form may be anonymous, so add in your info if desired
- Ensuring that the reps are aware of any alerts on the CDLE website, like where it said to call it for program integrity issues, but they say that can’t handle it
- Clarifying to reps that yes, PEUC can request a ticket through call center; it’s no longer just for PUA (as reported by our members)
- Facebook group will be sent information on applying for the jobs in internal call centers (these are more often the CALLBACK reps, rather than the call center reps; they are working to staff Coloradans in the ones they have control over, though they do outsource to third parties; jobs are full time, virtual, and are 30-60 days of training
- When we have reported inappropriate behavior of call center reps, there have been some terminations made as a result
- Look for improved messages while waiting on hold, including reasons to not stay on line:
- How to report fraud on website [EDIT: One form if you can't file your OWN claim because of fraud, another if you have discovered someone else is committing fraud in your name but you don't need unemployment benefits]
- How to find the Program Integrity Hold form
- Why the call center may be closed down - due to a full queue, whether midday or towards the end of the day
We both expressed much gratitude for those at Workforce Centers who have been our “saving grace” on getting in touch with a human.
- We know that some of their ability to look into the system has been reduced with the new system, and asked them to look into this so that some of the workflow could be reduced from the call center, especially on “easier” issues with contact information, or understanding what an issue might be.
- Workforce Centers are not ACTUALLY closed, though they may be virtual only now.
- Request was made to check in with Workforce Centers that have a message they cannot answer unemployment questions; members have reported staying on the line and finding very helpful reps after all
- EDIT: Special shoutouts were given to Boulder and Pikes Peak; Boulder has publicly stated they will help anyone, regardless of their location. Boulder's number is 720-776-0822, and after language prompts, it's option 2. In our Facebook group, we refer to them as the Boulder Angels.
- EDIT: Monday through Friday, 8am to 3:30p, Workforce Centers have a chat feature available with unemployment reps. Wednesday through Friday, 8am to 4p, they also have a "hot line" to use. The latter can only connect claimants who have difficult cases once Workforce reps have exhausted info online and through chat.
EDIT: If you are still confused as to the order of pandemic programs, scroll down this blog post for a visual program progression chart. You can also learn more at CDLE's link on pandemic programs.
PHASE 1 - in process, as we know.
- Any “glitches” are being given temporary fixes, so see “known glitches” earlier in post, and will hope to be truly fixed with Phase 2
- EDIT: This only uses up what balance you have in the system. If you have the option to continue certifying, do so, but any payment will wait until phase 2.
- EDIT: No clarification yet on what happens if you applied "too early" for UI, but know that being denied for it is usually the first federal hoop to step through to then get to PEUC/PUA. Wait for Phase 2 and see if it all clears up.
- EDIT: If you use up all of your PEUC/PUA balance, you wait for Phase 2 for "Tier 2" of the same program
- EDIT: The $300 FPUC add on is included for any eligible week that you make $1. Any additional $300 waits for Phase 2, because they can't tell yet whether you made at least $1.
PHASE 2 - is being given the most attention right now; EDIT: set to "roll out the week of February 22" (See CDLE Press Release)
- It is NOT recommended that you do any process “early” before you are told - including applying for UI, verifying with ID.me. While you may get a confirmation, it could be false and not actually ready. My personal thought - there are still enough bugs with the system, too, why jinx yourself with a problem that may get corrected between now and then?
- They found a way to put the approximately 10,000 people from “Phase 4” into Phase 2 - these are the out-of-sequence people, who were in PUA around May 2020, because the PEUC programming wasn’t ready.
- Those who have a benefit year that expires (you’ve been in the system more than a year); First, if this is you, and the date has passed, DO go ahead and file a new UI claim. Do not worry if the Double Dip thing says you haven’t made enough. You will likely return to PEUC, Tier 2, as is my own case right now. Added tidbit - I currently have an option to file my next weekly certification, but it was recommended I do NOT do it until Phase 2 is complete. EDIT: This is because I now have an active UI claim, but should really be PEUC. But at least I am still active in the system now. HOWEVER, if you DO qualify for UI, there is a new rule that they are to look at this new weekly benefit of yours, and if it is at least $25 lower than the OLD year’s amount, you are to be granted your old PEUC rate. They tell me this will also be part of Phase 2.
- EDIT: Yes, Phase 2 includes regular UI claimants who now need to file their first ever PEUC claims, and anyone requiring a new PUA claim.
- EDIT: Yes, anything Phase 2 is backdated to Dec. 27, or the week after your payment ran out, which ever is later. (Still to be researched, I think new PEUC/PUA can be backdated to 12/1, but I'm not sure how that affects the 11 week total.)
- EDIT: In my opinion, if you have any weirdness in programs, part of which involves Phase 2, hold off panicking about ANY part of it until we know Phase 2 is actually working out. Reminder, they are still programming!
- EDIT: It is unclear yet which people will be required to do ID.me for Phase 2. There is no reason to do it early, as it may create a false confirmation that you're finished.
- EDIT: I have asked them to explain why some PEUC had to transfer to another state for PUA, and if they did, how that affects obtaining the additional 11 weeks.
PHASE 3 - Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) - they are guessing approximately 1,500 people
- This is the new option for those with mixed wages, adding a potential $100/week to claims; claimants are currently in the UI system, and couldn’t take into count their 1099 wages as well. In order to be eligible, you must have $5000 in NET (not gross) income. This is incredibly complicated programming, and only possible with the new MyUI+ system. They have predicted that most states won’t have this available until March/April, if at all before any new federal extension occurs. EDIT: I believe you will be Phase 2 for where you stand now - this extra $100 will be ANOTHER part of your claim. Phase 2 AND 3.
- If a NEW FEDERAL EXTENSION (for after the March expiration date) is passed, MEUC will be put on the back burner, in order to prevent as much gap as possible for the largest number of claimants. You won’t be forgotten, but you’ll at least have your base rate, and backdating for MEUC eventually.
- EDIT: You are encouraged to contact your federal legislators [find yours here] to get them to pass the next extension as soon as possible. Ideally, it needs to be done around February 19th in order to hope for time to reprogram without another gap.
We don’t know how quickly any of this can be addressed, but we did discuss the following hopes [EDITED to add 2nd bullet and all following, sent as a follow up after the meeting]:
- The work search requirements are VERY hard to find (buried at the bottom of contact information), along with red asterisks no one understands once you do find it
- PAYMENT HISTORY - make the payment history screen down loadable into a logical format. (Currently ASPX file for almost everything on website, not PDF) Allow people to specify the date rage they want to download.
- OVERPAYMENTS - When one appears, add link to documents that are tied to it, how to appeal; if forgiven, don't just zero out the bottom line, add a 'Written off' line and the amount, to prevent future reoccurances; fix flags on forgive OPs - people do not know if the “bogus” flags are sources of issues or not
- Make Wage Correction Form available to submit online, not just mail/fax
- Have same yellow alerts appear on MYUI/login page as main page
- People cannot figure out the “Other Messages” is literally the line right below
- Workforce Center to be able to access account information in similar ways they had with old system
THINGS TO KNOW:
- The Call Center reports back to CDLE the top three issues of the day, so they can attend to the biggest concerns
- It was asked if the state is drawing interest on payments not made to claimants, a popular question. The state asks for federal money daily, and is only allotted the money at that time.
- We discussed the statue much discussed in our Facebook groups that claimants must be paid every two weeks. They will follow up with an exact explanation of their side of it, but they believe it is every two weeks if eligible. If the programming is not ready, they cannot determine anyone’s eligibility. Also, instead of every two, they are now offering every week once eligible in the system. Not discussed on this call, but FYI for those still wondering, each new week is AVAILABLE on Sundays, but you have 14 days to complete your certification starting that day.
PROGRAM PROGRESSION CHART
Many are still lost on the order of programs, especially as to what triggers each one on or off. Here is a list, taken directly from a 39 page federal guideline document. Note the bullet points on each. It also explains why PUA is an option for Track 1. PUA is the only option for strictly 1099-workers. Normal non-pandemic unemployment insurance is funded by the taxes that W2 employers pay, and this is a rare opportunity for those with 1099 employment. Check out my very first blog post about unemployment, from January 2019, for an explanation of some of this.
You may also want to check out additional blog posts tagged Navigating Unemployment.