Note: I’ve researched this quite a bit and the consensus is that whether you think you will be eligible for benefits or not, it is best to apply now. Eligibility requirements have been greatly reduced and additional money is now being provided at the federal level. The sooner you apply, the quicker you will receive financial help.
If you’ve lost your job, had reduced hours, or are getting that tingling feeling that you may need financial help during the coronavirus shutdown, your first step is to apply for unemployment insurance benefits.
Unemployment insurance provides cash benefits to citizens who have lost their job through ‘no fault of their own.’ The money originates from employers and is paid through taxes, held in a fund, which waits there for employees who need it.
The program is run by each state but governed by federal law.
During ordinary times, unemployment benefits are pretty straightforward—if you’ve lost your job and you were making a certain base amount of income, you can apply for benefits. (Those in the severely low-income spectrum may not have earned enough to qualify for benefits). The amount you receive weekly is calculated by how much you were earning in the 18 months prior to losing your job.
The application process requires you to enter how much you earned during specific ‘quarters.’ You will need to have recent paystubs, or for those of us who earned varying amounts over the last year, you may need to go back and calculate your earnings to provide a representative picture of what you are not earning now.
Due to the coronavirus, the structure of the unemployment benefit program has become more flexible, lowering the eligibility requirements. Self-employed workers, freelancers, and those without an ’employer,’ are generally unable to claim benefits because funds are supplied by employers. With the CARES Act, however, that has changed.
Freelancers, self-employed workers, gig workers, independent contractors, the self-employed, and 1099 workers are now eligible.
If you are affected at all by the covid-19, you are likely eligible.
Also, the general requirement to ”be searching for a job,” while you’re receiving unemployment benefits has been waived.
But, it gets better. An additional ”coronavirus stimulus package for unemployment” will be provided by the federal government for up to 13 weeks. This is a significant $600.00 per week benefit on top of the amount you are qualified to claim through your state unemployment insurance program (which can last for up to 39 weeks). As an example, if you are eligible for $250.00 per week through your state unemployment program, you will also get $600.00 per week from the federal package, for a total of $850.00 per week.
The application process is relatively simple and can be done online (best option) or via telephone in an hour or less. Have your relevant information handy: social security number, driver’s license, pay stubs, bank statements, work addresses and phone numbers, and the last date you worked.
Find the unemployment insurance benefit application information for your state here: Unemployment Benefits by State
Below the drop down menu that allows you to search your state’s information, there will be separate links for general unemployment information, the online application, the telephone application, and updates regarding unemployment due to the coronavirus.
The best option is the online application process. You will create a login (don’t forget it in the chaos).
Should your application be accepted, you will receive benefits within 3-6 weeks. But, considering the number of people applying, I would not be surprised if things take a bit longer than that.
On a final note, it is important to know that unemployment benefits are considered income. Subsequently, you may owe taxes on your benefits at the end of the year. Be aware of this and put a percentage of this money away (preferably into a high-interest savings account) so that you don’t get stuck come tax time.
Please feel free to comment below with your own tips, experiences, and thoughts.