Knowing how to claim unemployment benefits is essential in today’s climate. The record-breaking rate of job losses in the US economy has led to speculation that the coronavirus pandemic will see the US economy fall into a recession the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the space of just three weeks, around 16.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment aid, overwhelming unemployment office websites and call centers as a result.
The government’s $2 trillion emergency economic package – including the $1,200 stimulus check for American workers (opens in new tab) – has been implemented in response. As part of these measures, new federal law now allows states to extend unemployment benefits to self-employed and gig workers, and to provide an extra $600 per week as well as an additional 13 weeks of benefits.
But exactly what unemployment benefits are available to those whose work has been affected by the coronavirus, and how do you go about making a claim.
Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
Unemployment benefits – or unemployment insurance as it is also called – are weekly payments made to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. To qualify, there have historically been certain other eligibility requirements to meet, which could differ between states.
However, in light of the coronavirus, the federal government announced in March that it is allowing states to significantly widen the eligibility for such benefits to cover many other workers who would not previously have been able to claim.
As a result, federal law now allows states to pay benefits where:
- An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
- An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over;
- An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.
In effect, this means that you may now be eligible to claim unemployment benefits if any of the following apply:
- Your employer permanently or temporarily laid you off due to coronavirus measures
- Your employer reduced your work hours due to coronavirus measures
- You are a self-employed or gig worker and have lost income due to coronavirus measures
- You’re quarantined and can’t work due to coronavirus
- You’re unable to work due to a risk of exposure to coronavirus
- You can’t work because you’re caring for a family member due to coronavirus.
How do I claim unemployment benefits?
Careeronestop has links and phone contact information to guide you in filing for unemployment benefits in your state.
The fastest way to apply for unemployment benefits is online. While you can phone, lengthy waiting times are likely.
As unemployment insurance is administered on a state-by-state basis, you will need to find out how to file for unemployment in your state (opens in new tab). The website of each state will be regularly updated with the best ways to apply and other important information.
However, as it is up to each state to implement the government’s coronavirus stimulus reforms, some states will therefore be ahead of others in terms of updating their programs.
Regardless of this, if you are eligible, or think you might be eligible, you should apply now.
What do I do if the website is down or I can't get through by phone?
The huge surge in demand for unemployment benefit inevitably means that many state websites, phone numbers, and unemployment systems have been overwhelmed. If you are having trouble getting onto a website or filing a claim, the advice from unemployment agencies is to stay patient, to attempt contact at different times of the day, and to keep trying.
If you have started an application, but cannot complete it, then you may have to try again. For any queries you might have, most state sites provide a list of FAQs to answer questions regarding applications, PIN numbers, and security questions. If you can’t find the information that you need, then try to call.
Importantly, if claimants can’t get through by phone or online, they are likely to have their payments backdated.
Which state do I apply in?
The general rule is to file your claim with the state where you worked. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, contact the state unemployment agency in the state where you now live for information about how to file your claim with other states.
How much can I expect to receive and for how long?
As unemployment benefits are intended to partially replace lost wages, the amount you can expect to receive will depend on what you used to earn. Formulas vary between states, and each state will also set an upper limit on the total weekly benefit amount. A common formula is to pay half of what the employee used to earn, up to a cap that is tied to the average earnings in that state. The maximum can differ widely between states, while some make small additional payments to workers with dependents. However, as part of the coronavirus stimulus package, all unemployed workers are to receive an extra $600 a week on top of traditional unemployment benefits, until 31 July 2020.
In more usual times, unemployment benefits will typically be paid for up to 26 weeks. However, the stimulus package also confirmed that unemployed workers will get an extra 13 weeks of benefits beyond the number a state currently provides.
How long will it take to get paid?
While it might usually take a couple of weeks from the time a person files to when they start to receive money, the sheer volume of applications suggests it is likely to take longer than this at present.
If certain information that is required is missing or hard to verify, then an application is likely to take even longer. If you’re struggling to see how you will make it through until the first payment arrives, it will be worth checking out things like personal loans online (opens in new tab) or any of the best alternatives to getting a payday loan (opens in new tab).
What information is usually needed to apply?
The process will vary between states, but generally a claimant will need to declare their income, and the reason they are no longer working. The applicant’s most recent employer will also usually be asked to verify the information. The information particular to each state is easily found online (opens in new tab).
How does the coronavirus affect applications?
States have been afforded flexibility on how to handle unemployment claims during the crisis. As a result, those who are not working due to illness or being quarantined should provide evidence from the healthcare professional that has told them to isolate.
If you are healthy and still able to work, you might still be required to demonstrate that you continue to seek new employment. However, leeway might reasonably be expected given the wider economic shutdown.