Over the last two weeks, nearly 10 million Americans have filed claims for unemployment benefits, a new historic high according to the Department of Labor. Analysts expect these jobless numbers to grow as social distancing mandates remain in effect, shuttering businesses and stripping Americans of their livelihoods.
Major companies like airlines, hotel chains, and restaurant groups are announcing layoff and furlough numbers in the thousands. Cirque du Soleil, Macy’s, Marriott, GE, AirCanada, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera are just a few of the large employers to send employees home without pay for the foreseeable future.
An unprecedented number of Americans are showing up at food banks and applying for unemployment benefits for the first time. David Greenfield, chief executive of Met Council, a nonprofit that provides food and housing assistance in New York City, told the New York Times that by last week they were not just helping food service workers, but lawyers and white-collar workers: “Folks who in many cases were employed their entire lives,” he said.
The rules for who qualifies for unemployment benefits or unemployment insurance vary state to state, but in light of the Wuhan coronavirus crisis, the federal government has lifted some restrictions, in addition to boosting the unemployment subsidies available with money from Congress’ $2.2 trillion relief bill.
If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, here’s what you need to know.
What is unemployment insurance and how do I get it?
Unemployment insurance provides cash to workers who have lost a job through no fault of their own, or who are looking for a job and can’t find one. It is a joint program between states and the federal government, but the CARES Act recently passed by Congress has opened up additional funds by creating the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
You can use the Department of Labor’s search tool to find your state’s online application, plus more information about unemployment benefits specific to your state.
Many states are cutting the extra requirements or barriers to speed up the unemployment application process. For example, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is waiving the 10-day waiting period tied to benefits and the work search requirement that was previously in place.
If I’m being furloughed versus laid off, can I file for unemployment?
Yes. If your employer tells you you can’t come to work and you will not be paid, you are unemployed for the purposes of collecting unemployment.
How much money will I receive?
The maximum weekly benefit varies by state. For instance, in Louisiana, the maximum weekly benefit is $247 while in California, the maximum is $450. But under the CARES federal relief bill, everyone who applies and is eligible can get an additional $600 a week until July 31.
States are not authorized to reduce the amount or duration of their unemployment compensation during the time of the federal expansion.
How long does unemployment insurance last?
The number of weeks benefits are available also varies state to state. Most states pay a maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, and many states are providing additional weeks of payments, called “extended benefits,” during this period of high unemployment.
No matter where you live, the CARES Act also guarantees an additional 13 weeks of benefits after your state’s benefit period expires.
What do I have to do to maintain my benefits?
Under normal circumstances, most states require anyone who receives benefits to check in with their state agency on a weekly basis and provide proof of their ongoing job searches. Now, many states have waved the job search requirement, but are still requiring you to check in weekly online to confirm that you are still unemployed.
How long with the program benefits related to the coronavirus last?
You can receive the extra weekly $600 from the federal government until the end of this July.
Can I file for unemployment if I work for myself or for the gig economy?
In the past, unemployment insurance excluded workers who were self-employed or employed with a gig economy job, like Uber or Lyft drivers. The federal relief bill now makes those workers eligible, as long as their unemployment is related to coronavirus.
These workers are eligible to receive half their state’s average weekly unemployment benefit plus $600 a week.
If I live in one state, but work in another, where should I file my claim?
Apply for unemployment insurance in the state in which you work. Your employer pays taxes in the state in which you do your job.
Is unemployment retroactive?
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program initiated by Congress in response to the coronoavirus crisis is dated to cover job loss from January 27 to December 31, 2020. If you lost your job for a coronavirus-related reason, you can receive benefits starting from when you became unemployed. So yes, these benefits can be paid retroactively to those who qualify.
Are unemployment checks taxed?
Yes. If you receive those benefits, next year you should get a 1099G form to report that income. Taxpayers will be required to disclose all of their unemployment insurance benefits when they file their taxes.
What if my claim is denied?
If you unemployment claim is denied, you or your employer can file an appeal if you disagree with your state’s evaluation of your eligibility. You just have to file the appeal within the state’s given timeframe. Use this online tool to find your state’s appeal process.
Do I qualify for the new benefits if I was already unemployed before the new law passed?
Yes. The $600 weekly boost from the federal government will be provided as a supplement to anyone already receiving unemployment compensation from their state unemployment program.
Additionally, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program provides benefits for unemployment, partial unemployment, or inability to work that began on or after January 27, 2020.