Even in the best of times, filing for unemployment insurance can be confusing. Now, as unemployment numbers are ballooning, figuring out what you qualify for and when your money will arrive is challenging.
Unemployment has changed dramatically over the last month—here’s what you need to know to navigate the process.
Changes to unemployment
The CARES Act, signed into law in late March, significantly expanded unemployment benefits. More people qualify, payments are larger, and benefits will last longer.
You can now qualify for unemployment benefits if:
- Your hours have been reduced due to coronavirus measures
- Your workplace has temporarily shut down and you are unable to work
- Your childcare has shut down, and you can’t work because you need to care for your child
- You are self-employed, a gig worker, or have a limited work history
- You can’t work because you are quarantined or because of a risk of exposure to coronavirus, or because you are caring for a family member with coronavirus
You can also receive more money and payments over a longer period of time. Anyone who is unemployed will receive an additional $600 per week of benefits, available until July 31, 2020. And if you are unemployed when state benefits run out, you’ll receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits.
The first step in filing for unemployment
No matter what your employment status, your first stop should be to check the unemployment guidelines with your state. Unemployment guidelines are set at a federal level, but each state can ultimately make their own rules. This can get confusing, especially during times of massive change (like right now).
Visit CareerOneStop.com and select your state to get the link to your state’s unemployment agency. Most states will have a page dedicated to the changes that they’re making in light of COVID-19, what has been adopted, and their latest news.
Note that many states are struggling to keep up with the changes in guidelines and the influx of applicants. They should be providing an estimate as to when you can expect all of their changes to be implemented.
Unemployment benefits in different situations
What do the changes mean for different employment situations? Here is what the federal guidelines will look like in certain situations:
If you have a traditional W-2 job
If you have a traditional job where you are an employee and you’ve been laid off, this is the most straightforward situation. You’ll be eligible for unemployment benefits and likely won’t need to do the traditional one week waiting period before you collect your first unemployment check.
You’ll also have the benefit of an additional $600 per week for up to 13 weeks under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) until July 31, 2020. This is in addition to what your state offers. So if your state will provide you with $500 per week of unemployment assistance, with the additional PUA, you will receive $1,100 per week
You’re self-employed, a business owner, or an independent contractor
For the first time ever, unemployment benefits have been extended to people who aren’t in a traditional W-2 job. But many states are ill-equipped to handle this change and unemployment programs have been slow to roll out.
Once states are able to begin accepting applications from people who aren’t W-2 employees, you should be able to qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). There are two parts to PUA: base PUA, which will last up to 39 weeks, and an additional $600 payment, which will last for up to 13 weeks.
California gave this example, which outlines what someone can expect to receive under PUA:
- February 2, 2020-March 28, 2020: base payment of $167 per week that you were unemployed due to COVID-19
- March 29, 2020-July 25, 2020: base payment of $167 + PUA of $600 per week that you were unemployed due to COVID-19
- July 26, 2020-December 26, 2020: base payment of $167 per week that you were unemployed due to COVID-19 (up to 39 weeks of total unemployment).
The base payment of $167 per week can be increased up to a maximum payment of $450 per week.
You can’t work because you lost childcare
If you’ve had to take time off of work because you’ve lost childcare, this is a situation where you first want to check with the family leave policies before filing for unemployment. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, all employers are required to give their employees 2-12 weeks of sick leave at two-thirds their pay.
If your sick leave has run out or you don’t qualify, you can qualify for unemployment assistance under the PUA. There are two criteria that you need to meet to qualify:
- A child (or another member of the household) that you provide primary caregiving to is unable to go to school or childcare because it’s closed, and
- You cannot work without having them in school or childcare
If you meet those two criteria, you can qualify for unemployment assistance. Check with your state for further guidance on how to apply.
Filing for unemployment benefits is frustrating, especially now as many people are having to wait for state unemployment offices to catch up. But keep your calm as best you can to navigate the process—it is worth it in the end.