CBS4 Investigates Problems With State Unemployment System

Unemployment System 'Overwhelmed' -- Feds Say Colorado Below 'Acceptable Levels Of Performance'

Written by Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4)- Colorado’s unemployment benefits system is “overwhelmed” according to its new director, with some claimants waiting on hold for as long as 3 hours to get questions answered.

“It’s unacceptable and we take it very seriously,” said Ellen Golombek, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment.

Golombek took over at Labor and Employment in January. She said the average wait time for claimants calling in for information on their unemployment claim now stands at 1 hour and 29 minutes. She thinks it should be 15 minutes or less.

“It’s overwhelming. The system is overwhelmed,” Golombek said several times during the on camera interview. “The problem persists because we are in a recession, people are laid off and are losing their jobs,” she said.

Golombek said there are now 137,000 Coloradans with active unemployment claims, compared to 2008 when about 30,000 were on unemployment. Callers now are so frayed and on edge, operators at the Labor Department undergo training to handle suicidal callers. Golombek acknowledged that 15 employees just went through “specialized training” to handle despondent claimants.

CBS4 also found that Colorado is consistently finishing below federal minimum standards for benefits accuracy, quality and timeliness. The U.S. Department of Labor publishes quarterly audits of every state’s unemployment program.

Each state is measured in nine different categories or “Core Measures.” Colorado has been performing poorly for the last four years Golombek acknowledged.

“It is troubling and failure is not acceptable,” said Golombek.

For instance, in the 4th quarter of 2010, Colorado fell below minimum federal standards in five out of nine core measures. For “separation determination quality,” an acceptable score is 75 or above. Colorado received a score of 30, besting only North Carolina and the Virgin Islands. The category measures how the state labor department did on an initial eligibility decision- did the state gather all necessary documents, were the claimant and the employer contacted?

In another category, “non-separation determination quality,” the federal minimum standard is a 75. Colorado received a score of 51, the fifth worst in the country. This category measures how the Colorado Division of Labor and Employment did gathering information and following due process on items that affect weekly eligibility.

“We’ve started looking at these scores in the last four weeks and what we need to do to make them more acceptable,” said Golombek. “Where we are today is not acceptable and our goal is to move into the acceptable range.”

She says CDLE is hamstrung by Colorado’s complex unemployment laws, which she says are far more daunting than other states. On top of that, Golombek said the low scores can also be attributed to a department working with outdated technology, high staff turnover and staff allocation.

Golombek said ‘we are looking at systems, processes and technology’ to improve the federal scores.

By email, Cher Haavind with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said, “The UI program takes seriously the quarterly self audit results and has taken several steps on the heels of the last completed audit to address the scores:

  • We are hoping to reallocate staff and are more closely aligning staff roles and responsibilities with performance standards.
  • In January we implemented new performance measures and are using ongoing training of staff to improve processes.
  • In June, the UI program will add TALX to the Statewide Information Data Exchange. TALX and ADP (already in the data exchange) represent approximately 30 percent of the employers on unemployment insurance issues. Adding TALX will allow the program to more quickly and effectively gather information from employers and will benefit the separation determination process and positively impact the quality of the determination.

Additional Resources:
To view quarterly rankings of Colorado and other state’s performance on ‘core measures’ set up by the U.S. Department of Labor, go to this link, click on ‘all measures’, and enter a quarter you would like to view:

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment provided the following tips to avoid long telephone wait times:

Tips to Avoiding Long Wait Times

  • Use the Internet application for filing both, new claims and bi-weekly filings.
  • Call later in the week versus a Monday or Tuesday
  • If wanting to verify that CAP Card was mailed, wait 24 hours after filing, then go into the CUB System, under option 3 and check for the date of last warrant mailed.
  • Search the CDLE web site, claimant handbook and claim materials for answers prior to calling a representative.
  • Be pro-active in regard to getting the first CAP Card on a new claim. 1) Registered with a local workforce office 2) complete and return all required forms right away 3) complete bi-weekly filings on a regular schedule and verify that they took in the system. It takes about 3 to 5 weeks to get most claims processed. If last employer paid “other pay” it could postpone benefits.
  • And, last but not least, return any calls from the agents as soon as possible.
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