Colorado Introduces New ‘Callback’ Option For Frustrated Unemployment Callers

RTD commuter rail trains in downtown Denver
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
RTD commuter rail trains in downtown Denver.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment will roll out new options for the legions of people who have been frustrated by the state's overloaded unemployment systems.

A new online form will allow people to request a call back from the unemployment hotline, but only if they are filing a new application. The form is not available for people who have already filed an application.

If you fill out the form, "(w)e’ll ask you kindly not to continue calling us but give us a couple [of] business days to get back to you," said Jeff Fitzgerald, director of the unemployment division. "That’s another avenue ... that we think is going to be effective."

The state has doubled its call-center staff and opened a new dial-in service for people dealing with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. For help with regular unemployment claims, call 303-813-2800. For help with PUA claims, call 303-536-5615.

Meanwhile, unemployment claims are still pouring into the state of Colorado's systems in record-crushing numbers. The state reported 38,384 new claims in the "regular" system last week, plus nearly 41,000 claims under PUA from gig workers and others. PUA opened for applications on April 20.

The overall number of new, regular claims spiked early in April with more than 100,000 in a single week, and it's trended downward since then, but the volume remains far above previous records.

It will take several more weeks to determine whether unemployment claims have peaked, according to state officials. "I would still say claims are very hard," said CDLE economist Ryan Gedney.

Some workers will return to their jobs as retail stores and personal services reopen in the coming weeks. However, not all are ready. Fears of unsafe environments, along with the appeal of expanded unemployment benefits, have led some workers to refuse to return.

The state has already heard from more than 40 employers with questions about potential disputes. In some cases, workers who refuse jobs could lose their unemployment benefits, but it depends on the specifics of the situation.

Under new rules issued by CDLE, the department will consider the "objective level of risk to the health or safety" posed by a return to work, along with the normal level of risk in the job and the "particular vulnerability of the individual to the COVID19 virus as determined by commonly held medical professional standards."

The rules were created under a new executive order by Gov. Jared Polis.

The state paid $86 million in regular unemployment benefits alone last week. April payments have far surpassed the record set during the Great Recession, and the state has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars more through PUA payments to independent workers and the $600 federal supplements that are going to most unemployment recipients.