Steamboat’s unemployed workers looking for help after resort suspends operations and restaurants closed to dine-in customers
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s been a busy week for Jessica Valand and the staff at the Colorado Workforce Center, who have been fielding questions from thousands of recently unemployed residents.
Valand, who serves as regional director for workforce development in Northwest Colorado, said she wants newly unemployed residents — many laid off when the ski resorts closed down and the governor ordered that all bars and restaurants close to dine-in customers for 30 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak — to know her staff, which has local offices in Steamboat Springs and Craig, is here to help.
“The first thing is for everyone to file their claims for unemployment insurance, and folks do that online,” Valand said.
But she cautions that the website — coloradoui.gov — is experiencing unprecedented high volume. She recommends people access the website early in the morning or in the evening, which she describes as off-peak hours. She also encourages people to hit the save button often.
“The website is experiencing unprecedented impacts right now just because of all of the layoffs going on all over the state,” Valand said. “It’s important for folks to know that even though they might not be able to have the claim go through the first time — to keep trying … If they don’t hit ‘save,’ the system doesn’t autosave. We’ve had a lot of folks who have been calling us feeling frustrated that they got all the way through the application and then it doesn’t go through and then all of their time and effort was lost.”
Sometimes, the system will not generate a claim number, but Valand said, in many cases, the application has actually gone through.
“People who get all the way to the end can call our office, and my staff is able to look in the unemployment insurance system and verify if a claim actually did go through,” Valand said. “So they should call us with questions.”
The staff can be reached by phone 970-879-3075 or by emailing email@example.com. The local office is not serving walk-ins at this time in order to limit face-to-face contact, and Valand said due to high demand, callers should leave a voicemail with a phone number, and her staff will get back in touch.
This week, unemployment claims in Colorado jumped from 400 to over 10,000. Valand said she did not have unemployment numbers broken down for Routt County.
“It is unbelievable how abruptly our work world has kind of completely flipped upside down,” Valand said. “The good news is that this is what we’re here to do, and our staff is ready to help in any way we can.”
She said grocery stores and some delivery services are hiring. The availability of U.S. Census job has been stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic..
Valand said workers must have earned at least $2,500 from their previous employer to be eligible for unemployment. She encourages anyone who is unemployed to go ahead and apply. They may be denied or their employer may contest the application, but it doesn’t hurt to try, she said.
“If they meet that threshold where they’ve earned from that employee $2,500 or more, the claim should be eligible to go through,” Valand said. “For the most part, seasonal workers are eligible for unemployment insurance. There are some exceptions to that — if they had a contract to be a temporary employee, and there was a specific end date in that contract. But again, in this case, nobody was anticipating the season being over. So for the most part, our seasonal workforce is going to be eligible to file a claim.”
Jennifer Dorr, economic security supervisor with Routt County Department of Human Services, agreed that filing for unemployment is a great place to start.
“I would suggest people contact the Workforce Center to see if they are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits,” Dorr said. “They can contact Routt County Department of Human Services if they need help regarding food assistance or medical assistance and some cash assistance programs are also available.”
She also suggested people utilize colorado.com/PEAK to apply for benefits.
Routt County has also established a “2-1-1” texting, and Dorr also suggested people use the new service.
In Routt County, the Economic Security Unit provides food assistance, administers Medicaid programs and offers cash and child care assistance, child support services, child welfare, veterans services and other specialty programs.
“Each program comes with its own set of income limits based on household size,” Dorr said.
Specifics on eligibility are available on http://www.colorado.gov and the following links Medicaid information at https://www.colorado.gov/hcpf/program-snapshots and for Food and Cash Benefits https://www.colorado.gov/cdhs.
“We have had increased numbers in phone calls and increased numbers of applications,” Dorr said. “We are distributing an increased amount of applications in the lobby, and we are receiving increased applications and information via PEAK. Our main focus is providing people with information and assistance as quickly and as concisely as we are able to. We have a great team who are very passionate about what they do.”
The lobby at the Routt County Department of Human Services, 135 Sixth St., is still open to the public for people to pick up applications and talk to staff on a phone located in the lobby. There is also a dropbox to drop off applications and documents and a computer in the lobby where people can apply for benefits online. People can also call the office at 970-870-5280.
“You know we’re trying to get good information and good answers to these questions, and I am encouraging both employers and workers to contact us if they do have questions,” Dorr said. “If we don’t know, we’ll try to get a response.”
Northwest Colorado Health Partnership has also been hard at work partnering with community agencies to ensure people have access to the resources they need, according to Stephanie Monahan, the nonprofit’s executive director.
The partnership has care coordinators who can help with emergency assistance funds, food assistance, transportation resources, mental health resources and medical care, and they can be accessed by calling 970-875-3630.
“I would say our role continues to be the connector,” Monahan said. “We’re here if people need help identifying resources, identifying services. We can help get them to the right agency for what they’re looking for and help them get what they need.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday to include comment from the president of Xcel Energy Colorado.