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'I Feel My Government Has Completely Failed Me': Thousands Waiting On Unemployment Benefits

DENVER (CBS4) - It's been five months since the pandemic hit Colorado, but some people laid off back in March are still having trouble getting their unemployment money.

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In fact, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says of the 664,532 unemployment claims filed since mid-March, there are still 223,298 claims still pending. But the CDLE says that's the lowest number since April.

"These are historic levels of claims," said Cher Haavind, a spokesperson for the department. "With those levels of claims that we've never seen before come a lot of questions, confusion, and anxiety from people, because they've never been on unemployment before, and number two, it can be a very confusing process."

Daniel Greenberg, of Denver, is one person who got lost in the confusion.

He was laid off from his job as general manager of the View House in Centennial in mid-March. That week, as he tried to submit his application for unemployment, he noticed one number was wrong in his Social Security number on his W-2.

His employer told him to go ahead and file under the incorrect number and they would correct it on the back-end.

Even though Greenberg said his old employer corrected the problem with the unemployment office not long after, he still didn't get any deposits.

So, his old employer told him to refile under his correct Social Security number.

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"I refiled, and have heard nothing, no pathway to get a hold of them, I must of called 20 times a day, six days a week, for two-and-a-half months," Greenberg said. "Every single time that I would call, I was told the wait is too long, and try back again and it disconnected. I would try every hour of every day, I tried Monday late, then next week I'd try Monday early."

Five months passed, and Greenberg was owed $20,000 in unemployment benefits.

He was unable to pay child support, and says he would have had to live on the streets if it weren't for his girlfriend. As a cancer survivor, Greenberg also wasn't able to afford his check-ups at the doctor's office.

"I feel that my government has completely failed me," Greenberg said. "I had filled out all of the paperwork that they asked me to fill out."

CBS4 Investigates contacted the Colorado Department of Labor and Unemployment instead. Within days, Greenberg got his money.

"I do not believe in coincidences," Greenberg said. "It was certainly with your interference and getting involved. Thank you for getting involved with my story."

The state believes it has fixed some of the problems by implementing its new virtual agent tool, powered by Google, which can be accessed by phone or online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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"So this does away with busy signals, it does away with the long hold times, and so we don't have that user experience anymore," Haavind said. "What you're trading is you have a guarantee of a callback, it provides greater equity to the claimant, in terms of more people having the assurance they will connect with somebody."

But Greenberg said in early July he was finally able to schedule a callback, however the next available callback wasn't until August 17.

"They say, okay you're set up for August 17, four weeks from now to even get a call back to talk about the four months that I haven't received my unemployment or my COVID money or anything to help me survive," Greenberg said. "It's absolutely a broken system."

Haavind said the virtual agent can answer the majority of common questions, but for those people who need a callback, "we're moving through that list of callbacks as quickly as we can."

Haavind said by the first week of August, the virtual assistant will get new upgrades, so it can answer more personalized questions for claimants.

She says the tool is also being used in other states.

"We actually identified this Google solution, because it was used in another state, so right now it's about sharing best practices and stealing those ideas and certainly we hope that this is a legacy that we can build upon in the future," Haavind said.

Haavind also stressed the importance of making sure all information on your claim is accurate, so your claim can be processed quickly.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment also said Thursday it plans to hire 75 new employees.

To access the online virtual assistant, or to get more helpful information about your claim, click here.

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