Federal CARES Act aimed at bringing relief as unemployment applications continue to rise
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Friday, the $2 trillion CARES Act was passed by the U.S. Senate and the House and then signed into law by President Donald Trump, bringing much-needed relief to those who have lost their jobs and income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The Senate bill backdates these provisions to Jan. 27, so anybody who has been laid off and filed a claim since Jan. 27 will be included,” said Jessica Valand, who serves as regional director for workforce development in Northwest Colorado. “It means that people who are filing now or filed inside of the last couple of weeks will still be able to benefit from the provisions, which are pretty extensive.”
One of the main benefits of the bill is a provision called pandemic unemployment assistance that makes people who were not eligible for unemployment before the CARES Act was signed eligible.
Valand said contract workers, gig-economy workers, like Uber drivers, and people who are self-employed are now eligible for unemployment. It would also include people who are unable to work because they have to stay home with a child because the schools are closed during this pandemic.
“So there’s some really sweeping eligibility changes, which are good,” Valand said. “They’re casting a really wide net to try and make sure that pretty much everybody who’s not working right now can benefit from unemployment insurance.”
The other big change is that the CARES Act will dramatically increase the assistance amount as well as extend the period that individuals receive unemployment from 26 to 39 weeks.
“The way unemployment insurance works right now, you get 55% of your gross lost weekly wages up to about $618 where it caps out,” Valand said. “In this new legislation, they’re going to pay an additional $600 to everyone who’s receiving unemployment insurance on top of their weekly benefit amount. That’s a really dramatic increase in terms of the total dollars that folks are going to receive through unemployment insurance.”
Though the CARES Act was signed by the president Friday, Cher Haavind, deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, was asking those unemployed workers who are newly eligible to wait a few days before applying.
“We hope to receive federal guidance quickly and are already working on reprogramming the systems and creating some charts so that workers know, based on their situation, what they might be eligible to receive,” Haavind said.
That is good news to many Coloradans who have found themselves without work since the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in the closure of many businesses over the past two weeks.
“The system is experiencing more ability and expanded capacity to take in consistently around 15,000 to 20,000 claims a day,” Haavind said.
That’s an increase over last week when the closure of restaurants, bars and movie theaters resulted in nearly 25,000 unemployment applications being filed, following a statewide stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Jared Polis. Last week’s spike overwhelmed the online system resulting in frustration, long wait times and applications failing to go through.
Haavind said the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment continues to see improved performance in its an online application process. The department implemented a new last name online filing system where claimants with last names that begin with the letter A through M file claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays or after noon on Saturdays. Those with last names beginning with N through Z may file their claims on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and before noon on Saturdays.
Officials also are hoping rule changes, including waiving the work search requirement and the one-week waiting period, will expedite processing and cut the time unemployed workers have to wait for the first benefit payment from four to six weeks to 10 to 14 days.
“It’s hard to make predictions right now,” said Ryan Gedney, senior economist at the state department of labor and employment. “I think it’s really dependent on how quickly the virus can be contained. I would say we’re just seeing the beginning of this … to try and identify when we might see this start to tail out is extremely difficult at this point.”
• Any employee who has earned $2,500 from an employer in the past months is eligible to apply.
• Contractors, gig workers and self-employed people are now eligible for unemployment benefits.
• Individuals can now receive benefits for 39 months, and the assistance amount has been increased by $600.
• Employees who have had their hours reduced to 32 hours a week should apply for unemployment benefits.
• Call the Colorado Workforce Center at 970-879-3075 with questions. Leave a message, and staff will call back.
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Rep. Joe Neguse is pushing to improve access and funding for public lands in Colorado and around the country.