For the unemployed, extending benefits takes patience

I would like to suggest you report on the inability of Colorado's unemployed to receive their benefits due to a 'busy signal' when trying to call," Anonymous User wrote Off Limits. "I've called over 500 times!"

Off Limits limited its attempts to just five, and never got anything other than a busy signal at 303-318-9000, the official contact number that Anonymous User had been given in a letter notifying him of the federal extension of unemployment benefits, a number also listed at But on that same site, Don Mares, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment, warns that it can take a long time to get through to the number. And with just one fast phone call to Cher Haavind, the department's director of Government, Policy and Public Relations, we found out why.

"Our call-center system can have 240 calls in at a time," she says. "After those lines are full, then it will ring busy. We turn phones on at 7:30, and within minutes, every line is filled up." The center is getting between 4,000 and 5,000 calls a day, she says, and the department is "currently at 188 percent of our claims load compared to this time last year." To try to meet the demand, the department is hiring thirty more call-center reps — between sixty and eighty are on the phones during all working hours — and has authorized 150 people to do up to fifteen hours of overtime a week. But still, with each call taking between five minutes and an hour, it can be like bailing the Titanic with a teacup.

Adding to the load is the second seven-week extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation, signed by President George Bush last month, with letters going out to the 26,000 eligible people in Colorado telling them to call this one number: 303-318-9000. Do the math: 240 lines, 26,000 people.

Haavind's advice: Call early, call often. And if you're inquiring about anything other than the extension, try filing and finding answers online, or calling this number: 303-813-2800.

Off Limits did, and got through on one ring. This time.

Sorry, wrong number: "You're a hard person to catch," said the enthusiastic telemarketer who reached an Off Limits operative at home on Sunday. "We just wanted to know if there's a reason you let your Rocky Mountain News subscription elapse."

Well, our operative replied, there's that element of uncertainty regarding the paper's future — after all, owner E.W. Scripps had announced three weeks ago that it was putting the paper up for sale, and warned that if a buyer didn't step forward by early January, it would pursue other options (read all about it in Michael Roberts's December 11 "Sale of the Century and a Half"). "The only thing going on is that it's just being sold," said the salesman. "It's not going down or anything. Don't you miss reading it on Sundays?"

Point is, everyone's missed reading it on Sundays since the joint operating agreement between the News and the Denver Post took effect back in 2000: The terms of the JOA awarded Sunday exclusively to the Post and gave Saturday to the News — which, to add insult to injury, was required to publish that edition in a broadsheet format rather than the standard tabloid.

We figured the salesman should really know all this, but he turned out to be a subcontractor with Sullivan Promotions — a company that has been mercilessly blitzing people's phones — and not an employee of the Denver Newspaper Agency, which was created by the JOA to run the business operations of the two papers. Including selling subscriptions.

To a paper that could be gone in a month.

Paper chase: When Janet Simons, author of the Colorado Smart Shopper, took a look at Monday's Rocky, she was appalled that the "Where to Buy" box accompanying a piece on the popularity of board games noted that "most of the games listed here should be readily available online." Although it went on to suggest checking at independent game stores, the box didn't offer a single one in the metro area. "Yes, we know this is Christmas week and that many members of the Rocky's already dispirited and down-sized staff are probably on vacation," Simon writes. "The piece was picked up from the San Francisco Chronicle, an easy 'gimme' with some valuable consumer information. But, in light of the fact that the Rocky has said Internet competition is the chief culprit in the fiscal crisis that probably will close it, someone might have considered giving locally owned game shops a boost by listing a few of them with the story."

To make matters worse, Simons points out, a "last-minute gifts" column on the next page was picked up from Shopzilla, the Internet shopping site owned by the company that recently announced the Rocky is for sale.

For the record, Simons, who was once the News's shopping expert, offers these local stores: The Bookies, Grandrabbit's Toy Shoppe and Kazoo & Co.

Scene and herd: Not a spot for last-minute gifts: According to that site, official DNC gear is no longer available. But there's still plenty of the awful, unauthorized stuff at souvenir stores on the 16th Street Mall.

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