Colorado employers will need to replenish the billions of dollars that have gone out in state unemployment benefits, but most shouldn’t see a big jump in insurance premiums next year, although that could change in 2022 and beyond.
“We are seeing a historically high level of claims filed since March,” Ryan Gedney, a senior labor economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, told employers on a Zoom call on Thursday.
Displaced workers have filed nearly 600,000 claims with the state’s unemployment insurance program since mid-March, resulting in the payment of $2.2 billion in state benefits, separate from another $3 billion the federal government has paid out.
Premiums are adjusted higher or lower each year based on the money available in the Colorado Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in relation to the total amount of wages that need to be covered in the state. The trust fund went from a balance of $1.1 billion early in the year to $423 million on June 30, the cutoff date, which will result in higher premiums.
By August, the fund went insolvent and had to borrow federal money. A surcharge to repay the deficit will be levied next year, but won’t have to be paid until 2022.
Rates are also fine-tuned based on the size of an employer’s payroll, how much they have paid into the system, and how much their workers have claimed in benefits. A firm that lays off multiple workers for long periods of time faces a higher “experience” rate than one that retains all of its staff.
Rates are assessed against the first $13,600 in pay for each worker to determine the premium due.
The state is currently calculating premium rates and will send those out this month and next, but many could be corrected by March. That’s because the governor ordered that unemployment benefit claims made because of COVID-19 not be counted toward the experience rate.
“Benefits paid to employees who were unemployed because of the pandemic will not be charged to your account,” said Lindsey Behringer, a supervisor at the CDLE. “It has been a lot of work to adjust.”
Behringer asked that employers wait until the second notice comes out in March before protesting their premium rates.
Among the concerns raised by employers was whether they will be dinged for employees who voluntarily quit or were fired but who claimed benefits anyway and for fraudulent claims paid out to organized crime rings.
Facing a crush of requests, the state didn’t vet claims as closely as it did in calmer times. Employers should receive a notice of all employees who have filed for benefits and they can protest any claims they think were not warranted, said Cher Haavind, the CDLE’s deputy director.
Haavind said almost all cases of fraud and overpayment are occurring in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for independent workers. That is a new program funded through federal dollars and won’t impact the state trust fund.
Higher unemployment insurance premiums next year will add to the costs that employers must pay at a time when many are struggling. A survey of 540,000 small businesses by Alignable found that four in 10 have seen fewer than half their customers return and one in four said the possibility of another shutdown was their top concern.
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