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Colorado Unemployment Claimants Continue To Struggle, Question Gov. Polis, CDLE Priorities

DENVER (CBS4) - Everett Wilson says it weren't for being able to live his daughter, he would be homeless. Prior to reaching out to CBS4, he hadn't been receiving unemployment payments since January.

"Frustrating... it was like I was constantly jumping through hoops, you know? Trying to get somewhere, and it just wasn't going anywhere," Wilson said.

Wilson lost his job in the event rental business during the pandemic. He was getting some unemployment payments in 2020, but the money stopped coming in January this year, and he couldn't get answer why, despite calling the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment customer service line regularly.

(credit: CBS)

Asked how many times he called, he said, "oh, I lost count after 100."

Days after CBS4 inquired about his case, the CDLE started paying him the money he was owed. The CDLE said he was one of more than 1,000 people tied up in fraud holds that fraud investigators are reviewing manually. The CDLE said an issue with a typo in his birthday caused the hold.

As CBS4 reported last week, the department is suffering staff issues - like many industries across the state - and does not have a timeline on when all of those hold investigations will be completed.

His story echoes those of dozens of people we've interviewed over the last 21 months.

READ MORE: Colorado Unemployment Resources Were 'Tapped Out' At Start Of Pandemic, Internal Emails Show

Now, a state audit is finding last year, when the department received 11 million calls for help, 95% of callers couldn't get through.

But some claimants have also tried the head of the state.

"I tried calling the governor's office, and got hung up on three times," Wilson recalled.

Wilson believes Gov. Jared Polis should speak to his constituents about why people like him have been allowed to suffer for 21 months.

"He should take care of his state, and be forthcoming about what's going on," Wilson said.

So, for the second time this year, CBS4 asked Polis for an interview to talk about the problems people continue to have with the unemployment system, but he declined, and offered the following statement:

"We appreciate this work shedding a light on the struggles of many Coloradans facing unemployment and hope that it results in positive federal reforms. The Governor has nothing but empathy for those who have suffered pandemic-induced unemployment. The state has strived to strike the right balance between preventing waste and fraud and ensuring unemployed Coloradans got their benefits. While Colorado has used every tool at our disposal to only give benefits to eligible people we did not have a free hand in designing these programs as the program design is mandated at the federal level and the state must implement that's federal requirements including much of, if not all of the paperwork."

The governor's office also pointed out the CDLE has conducted several interviews with CBS4. See the latest CDLE interview with CBS4 here.

The CDLE says the governor's office has been supportive of the department, and department funding isn't the issue with the its struggles, but rather the actual hiring.

"Like all other employers, we are struggling to get people to apply to fill our roles, and we had an immediate loss of staffing after the expiration of the merit staffing waiver on 9/7. Without that we could not keep any of our contractors on except in the call center," a CDLE spokesperson wrote to CBS4. "We are not pursuing any additional state resources at this time, and are monitoring the federal level for resourcing."

A spokesperson for the CDLE says the department is currently reviewing a number of methods to incentivize and increase staffing at the department that could help with claimant reviews.

Wilson says he'll believe it when he sees it, adding, "they're just not doing what they should be doing."

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