WP Chamber Going to Bat For Local Businesses and Employees During COVID-19 Crisis

~ by Trevor Phipps ~

During the recent COVID-19 outbreak,  the Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce  organization has been working hard to provide local businesses resources.

And this has involved  a considerable amount of behind the scenes activity, as the crisis has forced the closure of their office in the Ute Pass Cultural Center.

For the first couple of weeks when new information regarding regulations and recommendations  unfolded every day, following the outbreak of the pandemic, the chamber strived to relay the news to local businesses. Last week, the organization worked towards further deciphering all of the information received and helping people understand the somewhat complex data.

Chamber President Debbie Miller

The chamber held a Teller County Business Resource Webinar that was open to anyone who chose to login. As a part of the virtual meeting, several members from the Pikes Peak Workforce and Chamber President Debbie Miller were present to discuss topics such as layoff strategies, furloughed employees, unemployment insurance, and strategies to rehire.

According to Erica Romero, Business Services Lead for the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, employers that need to lay off workers have multiple options. “What we offer businesses is in conjunction with the state,” Romero explained. “So the state actually offers rapid response services, so any time a business is faced with a layoff or a reduction of hours, or a reduction in staff, we have a couple of different strategies that we can personalize and make sure we find what works best for them.”

For example, employers that have more than two employees can utilize the work share program which allows workers to file for unemployment to cover hours that had to be cut by their employer. Under the work share program employers can cut their workers’ hours by 10-40% and their staff can then apply for unemployment insurance and collect a percentage of the pay they missed due to the cut in their hours.

In addition, Romero said that businesses can lay off their employees and offer job-attached unemployment. Under job-attached unemployment insurance, employees can collect unemployment until business returns back to normal, and then they can easily be hired back once the company is ready to re-open.

During either scenario, the employee must still file for unemployment insurance and due to excessive recent demands, the state asks that everyone apply on their website. Another perk to receiving unemployment benefits now is that the requirements to look for a job, while collecting unemployment pay, are waived so that people are not violating the stay-at-home order.

During last week’s webinar, officials mentioned that the state had to delay its enrollment date of last Friday for self-employed and 1099 contract workers. According to the chamber president, she was notified last Thursday and found out that the state’s application system would not be ready by the initial date.

The state is working towards getting the system up and running so that they can accept Payroll Protection Program forgivable loan applications for contract workers. In the meantime, Miller advised that people wishing to apply for the forgivable small business loans get their paperwork ready for when they are able to apply.

The webinar also mentioned that a job fair that was scheduled to take place in Woodland Park this month.  This would consist of a virtual job fair. Darlene Wolford, Business Relations Representative for the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, urges employers that need employees to login to the Connecting Colorado website to post their job listings.

According to Wolford, despite the recent shutdown of businesses, there are still several job opportunities out there. “There’s a lot of jobs that are currently open,” Wolford said. “There are very many openings in different industries from retail to some restaurants that offer delivery services and need drivers. There are just a whole bunch of different areas that are hiring right now.”

Chamber Strives To Provide Support During The Pandemic

According to Chamber President Debbie Miller, the organization has recently been working towards gathering information related to the recent outbreak. She said that they have been sending out several e-mails to inform businesses as to what is happening with the different regulations and government assistance programs.

According to Miller, one major topic she has helped businesses and those who are self-employed with is applying for the Payroll Protection Program Loan. She said that even though the recent date to apply for contract workers has been set back, that those who wish to apply for the loan spend their time getting everything they need to submit the proper paper work.

Miller also said that there are several resources available for those that seek information. “There are so many opportunities out there for information,” the chamber president said. “Each day we get new things that make it easier to understand and we post that up there on our website on the four different pages that we have. There are two really good pages. One is focused for employers and that has federal, state, and local information. The other is our employee citizens’ page and that will help those employees looking to file unemployment.”

Despite the tough conditions right now, Miller said that she has not heard of any permanent business closures taking place locally. This is a much different scenario from what is occurring in other regions. “I haven’t seen that happen up here to date,” Miller replied. “I haven’t had someone say to me, ‘I’m closed for good and I’m not coming back.’ They are concerned. And, we are concerned for them.”