Don’t make these mistakes, and you’ll avoid the unemployment hotline headache

Problem Solvers
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DENVER (KDVR) – Unemployed people who request payments from the state’s unemployment system too early or too late may trigger the system to close their claim, temporarily preventing future payments.

“I had to dip into my savings and all those things,” said Matt Wilson, who has been unemployed since late March, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to be furloughed by the Colorado Athletic Club.

Wilson said he stopped receiving checks after the first two came, but he could not connect with anyone on the state unemployment hotline to resolve the problem. 

He contacted the FOX31 Problem Solvers for help.

“No matter how many times you call, email, nothing works. So the only thing I can do is to reach out to somebody else, like the media, to bring attention to it.”

A Colorado benefits branch manger who reviewed Wilson’s case with his permission and at the request of the FOX31 Problem Solvers found Wilson filed one of  his payment requests a week too early.

“This should have informed him filing a week early would close the claim,” said Philip Spesshardt, in an email. “It appears he needs to reopen the claim, have it backdated, and have payment requests submitted.”

According to Cher Haavind, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, 80 percent of calls to the state’s call center pertain to similar issues, or problems with missing claim information or identification, or issues with out-of-state wages. Unfortunately, she said, those issues must be resolved by a live person. 

The call center is receiving as many as 4,000 daily calls. Recently, the numbers were as high as  10,000 to 20,000 phone calls.

“Certainly there are some calls that are going unanswered – quite a few actually – creating some frustration, which we realize,” she said, encouraging people to take initiative by reading all of the communication that comes from the state and to closely follow the deadlines provided.

Haavind said CDLE recently hired 90 temporary workers to help field phone calls, but it takes several weeks to train them on very technical details before they can start taking calls.

The state is also working on developing a scheduled call-back system, in which operators will coordinate phone calls that pertain to very specific issues, like the one affecting Wilson. 

“These are very technical issues that here is no resolution but for to speak to an agent, and for those callers, we are hoping to provide some more dedicated and focused responsive resources to them,” said Haavind. 

She said the state is working on some “how-to” video guides to assist people with basic questions, so they may avoid contacting the hotline to have their questions answered. 

She said CDLE is also working with a vendor to develop a virtual agent that would assist some callers resolve some of their issues with more immediacy, in an automated way.

“What we are seeing if there are no challenges on a claim, they are processing just fine,” said Jeff Fitzgerald, the state’s unemployment insurance division director. 

As many as 86 percent of claims are being paid, said Haavind.

Fitzgerald said some claimants don’t realize they will not receive payments unless they actively request them on the timeline provided by the state.

“In some instances we are getting people who call us….and say, ‘I’ve never gotten a payment.’ Well, we find out that they never went in and requested a payment. There’s multiple steps. You need to pay attention to the steps, and yes, you need to have some patience in terms of the normal cadence, and you need to actively go in and request payment,” he said. 

Wilson’s claim, meanwhile, was reopened and he will be receiving the payments he missed.

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