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Over 1,200 Coloradans waiting on unemployment money due to "integrity holds," CBS Colorado investigation finds

Almost 3k Coloradans waiting on unemployment money due to "integrity holds"
Almost 3k Coloradans waiting on unemployment money due to "integrity holds" 04:04

UPDATE: A previous version of this story, published on Monday, reported that 2.5% of unemployment people are stuck in program integrity holds, which is potentially 2,800 people out of the total 114,400 unemployed people in the state. Tuesday, the state's unemployment office clarified that while there are 114,400 unemployed people in Colorado, there are only 47,981 total active unemployment claims, and 2.5% of that number -- 1,208 -- are stuck in program integrity holds, and are waiting for their claims to be reviewed. This is still an improvement from last summer, when the state reported more than 5,000 people stuck in such holds. 

Despite a low unemployment rate in Colorado right now of 3.5%, there are still 1,208 people struggling to receive the unemployment money they need to stay afloat. 

The state's unemployment office says it has to walk a fine line to make sure it's not paying fraudsters, which sometimes leads to legitimate people's claims getting held up on what's called a "program integrity hold." These kinds of holds can only be reviewed and cleared by a specialized team of 19 people who undergo a thorough security clearance, which includes fingerprinting.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says about 2.5% of all of Colorado's unemployment claims are currently held up on program integrity holds. The state says that's 1,208 claims out of 47,981 active unemployment claims in the state.

Those numbers are slightly better from last summer when CDLE said there were more than 5,000 claims held up.

While there might be fewer holds, the people who are stuck in that waiting game feel the state needs to be doing much more to help

RELATED: 1980s tech caused hardship for hundreds of thousands of Coloradans needing unemployment money during the pandemic

Jill Snider, of southeast Aurora, waited on her unemployment money of $19,000 for over a year, because of an error a state staff member made on her claim paperwork.

"They filled out the form wrong and said that I was a man instead of a woman," Snider said. 

Jill Snider CBS

As a single mom who also cares for her parents, it has been tough for her to make ends meet. She tried calling for help but said she wasn't able to get an answer from customer service about what she needed to do to fix the problem. 

"Nobody's told me what's going on, how it's going, or why it's happening," she said. "I've waited on hold for over four hours and then been told that the queue is full and I have to call back at another time... and when I have a handful of times gotten an actual human, all they've been able to tell me is, 'it's under review, we don't have enough people to help us, we're really backlogged, and we're not sure what's going on.'"

After sending in 10 different forms of proof of identity, she's still scratching her head as to how no one caught the mistake for a year.

"There are times I've just thought that my file has slipped between filing cabinets and I'm never going to get my benefits," she said. 

But 48 hours after CBS News Colorado asked about her claim, the state paid her all of the $19,000 she was owed. CDLE admitted the hold up was due to an error from a staff member, but that her case is "unusual."

"It was a huge relief, like a giant weight was lifted off of my shoulders, and I couldn't believe it," she said. "After all of this time of calling and writing and waiting on hold, it was like, 'oh my gosh, here it is, it's finally happening.' ... I was just like, 'I had to get an investigative reporter from a news agency involved in order to get my benefits, and I'm actually really frustrated and angry, but also really grateful.'"

She says the money will make a big difference for her and her family.

"It's room to breathe. I'm able to pay some bills, not worry about how I'm going to pay for groceries," she said. "It's night and day."

Asked her advice for other claimants still struggling, Snider said, "don't give up, keep calling, keep emailing, and keep writing, you know, don't stop and keep trying to find out what's going on."

If you're having trouble with your unemployment claim, CBS News Colorado has been told it's better to call customer service during hours of the day that are less busy -- between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. 

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment's Uninsurance Benefits Office in Denver CBS

CDLE also provided the following statement about the several improvements it's made and efforts it's taken to more quickly resolve held-up claims:

We realize any delay in claims processing can create frustration for our claimants and continue to identify ways to improve the claimant experience. 

There are a number of factors that can influence claims processing timelines including fact finding, reasons for separation and suspected fraud. While the majority of claims are processed within seven weeks or less, the preceding issues - fraud risk - can increase claim processing time. Currently approximately 2.5% of active claims have program integrity holds requiring additional information from claimants and investigation to ensure benefit payment integrity. These can take a variable amount of time to resolve, depending on the fraud risk indicators on the claim and the response time to agent requests for information from the claimant. 

In the last few months we implemented a number of improvements to better serve our claimants and continue to find additional ways to expedite claims processing and customer service. Improvements over the last quarter include: 

  • A revised program integrity review process which has already resulted in a decrease of 45% of PI holds.
  • Retraining our customer service staff as well as our third party vendor. (we currently have 105 staff providing front line customer service on phones, in the lobby, etc.)
  • Lobby appointment system to serve more claimants with more complicated claims issues, and triage those more routine issues to our third party service
  • A new claim status tracker within the claimants' online account dashboard
  • Added automation for resolving claim issues to reduce human intervention where possible
  • In person identity verification service in partnership with the US Postal Service

Finally, we recently conducted a process improvement review of PI hold investigations, which was done by the consulting wing of our partner Deloitte at no cost. The takeaways from that review…included a number of strategic initiatives which are currently being implemented.  Those initiatives include 

  • Adjustments to workflows to allow more seasoned individuals to handle more complex investigations, while new staff and other trained units handle the easier PI reviews
  • Improving workflows to ensure that issues are reviewed promptly based on claim age and likelihood of payment
  • Improving communications to the Customer Service Center to provide better guidance to claimants
  • De-prioritize certain claims likely to be fraudulent or not able to be processed
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