DENVER -- Just one week after more than 15,000 Coloradans were notified that they are in jeopardy of retroactively losing their unemployment benefits for 2021, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is gearing up to send out roughly 21,000 warnings that could land residents in the same place.
The new group will have 90 days to prove they did not receive the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits in error.
The initial notices came in to the confusion of many Coloradans who say they properly filed the correct paperwork on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
"I was stunned," said Jim Mills, an independent contractor who owns his own company called JF Mills Worldwide. "I followed all the rules. I did exactly what I was asked to do. And this was an absolute stunner for me."
Mills, one of the 23,000 who initially received a warning, says he believed all of his documentation was correct for 2020 and 2021. Categorized as a gig worker, he qualified for unemployment because his company had to be shut down during the pandemic.
"I have not tried to circumvent the system whatsoever," said Mills. "I have participated and cooperated with everything that they've asked me to do."
CDLE officials say that retroactive overpayment notifications are sent after the CDLE notices information is incorrect in an account. The state saw more than 300,000 applications for pandemic unemployment insurance in 2020 and 2021.
When Congress extended the PUA program the spring, several requirements were added on. The CDLE says many of those requirements, like confirmation of employment in 2019, went unnoticed by thousands. The CDLE sent its first notifications to 23,000 claimants in June, but officials say that roughly 15,000 notices have gone unanswered.
"These individuals were afforded 90 days to provide this proof of income," said Phil, Spesshardt, the director of the unemployment insurance division at the CDLE. "What we also, in the course of this, provided multiple email notifications to these individuals."
Spesshardt says there are still ways to resolve the overpayment issues even after the notifications were sent. He says the most important thing to do is to appeal the notice with whatever information is available to challenge it.
"The first step is an individual would want to do is appeal that decision because that is what ultimately can make that overpayment go away," said Spesshardt. "Collection activity can only begin on an unemployment insurance payment once a decision is final."
The CDLE is gearing up to send another round of notifications to a new group of 21,000 Coloradans who will have 90 days to respond or face similar headaches. Spesshardt says anyone who identifies as a gig worker who received unemployment assistance in 2021 should check their inbox.
"If they were on PUA in the past year, year and a half, they should continue to check their email box, and continue to check their mailbox." He said. "They may receive some additional notification from us that they also need to provide this 90-day proof of self-employment."