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'I feel like ... a forgotten number': Colorado unemployment backlog increases to 10-12 weeks

People desperate for benefits at risk of losing everything
Colorado's unemployment rate sees improvement, still higher than pre-pandemic level
Posted at 4:50 PM, Jul 19, 2022

Unemployment hell — that's what people are calling a months-long backlog in processing claims. Meanwhile, they are at risk of losing everything.

Crystal Johnston has emailed Governor Jared Polis, the Secretary of State and Contact Denver7 — anyone who will listen — to tell them that Colorado's unemployment system is broken.

"I'm at risk of losing my home and everything I've worked so hard for," said Johnston. "I am becoming desperate. I'm just grasping for straws."

The marketing executive lost her job in March and filed for unemployment benefits, but her claim has still not been processed. When she tried to show Contact Denver7 her claim's status, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment website was down.

"I can't collect unemployment. It's been 16 weeks, and it's still pending," Johnston said.

'I feel like ... a forgotten number': Colorado unemployment backlog increases to 10-12 weeks

She says she's gone through her savings and has started selling her possessions to get by.

"Do you go into delinquency? Or do you go and rent out your home and potentially live in your car?" Johnston said.

Contact Denver7 is again seeing a steady increase in complaints from people on the verge of losing everything after waiting months for unemployment payouts.

"I feel like the state of Colorado needs to do something to fix this," said Alicia Nieva-Woodgate, who filed her unemployment claim in January and has struggled to find work.

Now, her account is locked, and she still cannot get answers from CDLE as to why.

"I have financial responsibilities with aging parents and other financial responsibilities. So, it's a huge drain and worry," Nieva-Woodgate said.

CDLE confirmed an average 10- to 12-week backlog in processing unemployment claims, an increase since Contact Denver7's last report in April when it was eight to 10 weeks.

Phil Spesshardt heads the state's Division of Unemployment Insurance at CDLE, and points to the pandemic backlog, combined with new claim numbers that are still much higher than pre-pandemic.

"So you add that onto the backlog, and it becomes difficult to continue to stay afloat," Spesshardt said.

He says it will take time to reach the three to four-week processing time goal.

"My hope would be a year from now, we're not in this boat, right? Can I guarantee a year from now we're not in this boat? I can't guarantee that," Spesshardt said.

Like many employers, Spesshardt says CDLE has struggled to hire and retain employees, while federal rules preventing their agency from automating certain processes. He says a new class of 20 adjudicators just came online, but it will take time to fully train them.

For people desperately searching for jobs while waiting for unemployment, the frustration is constant.

"I don't even feel like a person anymore," said Johnston. "I feel like a number, and a number that's not even being processed. A forgotten number. "

Editor's note: Denver7 seeks out audience tips and feedback to help people in need, resolve problems and hold the powerful accountable. If you know of a community need our call center could address, or have a story idea for our investigative team to pursue, please email us at contact7@thedenverchannel.com or call (720) 462-7777. Find more Contact Denver7 stories here.