This piece By Peter Anderson originally appeared on Bible Money Matters (up-to-date as of 4/15/20) and is reprinted with permission from the author. It has been edited for content and clarity. The original author may be compensated if you purchase products or services via external links in this post, at no additional cost to the buyer.
A record 6.6 million people filed for unemployment the week of April 6th, most of them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That makes almost 10 million in the past 2 weeks alone! Some officials are saying that unemployment could reach 30% in the second quarter of 2020.
While it’s important to make sure that your finances are in order, save up an emergency fund and plan ahead for any type of emergency, planning for something like this is extremely difficult. Thankfully there are plenty of public and private organizations that are setup to help people when their job is lost.
How Does Unemployment Insurance Typically Work?
Unemployment insurance is meant to provide temporary income to those who have lost their jobs due to a layoff, furlough, or business closure. In other words, it covers you if you’ve lost your job through no fault of your own. The benefits are funded through state employment taxes, and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act.
Unemployment benefits are managed and distributed by the individual states, so just how generous the benefits are varied by state.
Most states supply 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, while others like Florida and North Carolina offer only 12 weeks currently, although that can increase if the unemployment rates go up.
Typically, in order to qualify you have to apply for unemployment benefits with your state agency, and you have to meet several criteria.
• You have to be out of work through no fault of your own (you weren’t fired for cause).
• You have to have been employed for a minimum period as required by your state’s laws, called the “base period”. This period will help to determine how much your benefit amount is, and typically it’s less than half of your normal pay.
• You are able to work, are available to interview and are actively looking for a new job. (This requirement may be waived due to so many being temporarily out of work due to COVID-19).
Most states will have a maximum benefit amount that you can receive per week, so if you had a high paying job your benefits will not be nearly as high as your income. They will max out at a certain dollar amount, which varies by state.
Once you apply you will usually hear back within a few days, sometimes longer, about whether you're approved for unemployment benefits or not. If you are approved, you'll usually have to go to your state's website every week or every other week to request new unemployment payments and report any earnings you might have had from part time employment, which can reduce your benefits.
Expanded Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits in The CARES Act
We’ve written recently about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), and the $1,200 economic impact payments or stimulus checks that it provides for individuals, or $2,400 payments for couples. It also provides $500 for each dependent child 16 and under.
While the stimulus checks are needed, the CARES Act also puts in place some extended unemployment benefits for workers. Among the provisions that are most important for people applying:
• It adds 13 weeks to the typical 26 weeks of unemployment that most states provide. This runs through 12/31/2020. That would mean you could have a maximum of 39 weeks.
• It adds $600/week in benefits and payments through July 31st, 2020. You can receive this extra benefit until you’ve exhausted your state benefits. In some states that more than doubles the weekly maximum benefit amount, and in some cases means some people are earning more by being unemployed. See the weekly max benefit for each state in the table down below.
• The act also extends unemployment benefits to part-time and contract workers as well as self-employed individuals. This is huge if you’re a gig worker or self employed.
• Incentivizes states to waive the 1 week waiting period for unemployment benefits that most states have by reimbursing the states for 100% of the benefits for that week.
• NOTE: The $600 extra per week will not affect your eligibility for income-based health insurance programs like Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program.
When Does The $600 Extra Unemployment Benefit Payment Begin?
When applying for benefits, understand it may be a few weeks before CARES Act provisions take full effect and funding for the extra $600 is supplied. Until then, however, you can still collect your state’s normal unemployment benefits if you’re approved. You'll be automatically added to the stimulus programs once official guidance and funding is available.
It's important to note that the $600 is also paid retroactively, starting on 4/5/20. So, you will get the benefits from the date you signed up for unemployment on. It will only be paid and apply to those who are receiving unemployment benefits. If your state says you are not approved for benefits, you will also not receive the $600 extra COVID-19 payment.
Usually after you lose a job there is a 1 week waiting period before you can apply for unemployment benefits. That waiting period is now also paid for by the federal government due to the CARES Act, so if the state approves you for benefits for that week, they will be 100% reimbursed. So in most states you will be able to apply the same week that you lose your job.
File for Unemployment Insurance Right After A Layoff or Furlough
Once your job goes away, your number one job should be to start looking into unemployment insurance benefits in your state.
With the CARES Act you should be able to start applying the same week that you are laid off, so it's to your benefit to apply as soon as possible after you lose your income.
Some states are so overwhelmed with people applying for unemployment right now that they're having people apply for benefits only on certain days, based on their Social Security Number. Make sure you find out what day you're eligible to apply and get your information ready to go so you can apply on that day.
What Information Will I Need to Apply for Unemployment Benefits?
The precise information that you'll need to apply for unemployment benefits will vary by state, but it will be pretty similar no matter where you apply.
For example, here is the information needed to apply for benefits in Minnesota:
• Social Security Number.
• Name, birth date, address, contact information, email.
• Highest education level.
• Whether you are a citizen or not.
• If you are disabled.
• Direct deposit information, including routing number and account number.
• Names, addresses and phone numbers of all companies you've worked for in the past 18 months. Start and end dates of employment.
• Your pay rate at your job(s).
• Questions about why you are no longer employed. (MN has specific questions about COVID-19 and whether it is related to why you're unemployed).
During the process you'll be asked for the above information, as well as more detailed information about your employer, why you are no longer working there and also about any other income you may have coming in that could affect your eligibility (Worker's compensation, disability, etc).
After you submit the application, you'll want to keep your eyes open for your approval or denial email, or notification within the online portal. Sometimes you may be denied because the application is incomplete, or you need to provide further information. So, make sure you're checking your email and logging into the portal daily.
What Happens After I Apply for Unemployment?
Once you apply your information will be routed through the system, and if need be, it will be flagged as needing additional information or explanation. If you're denied after your first try, make sure to supply them with any additional information that they're asking for. Odds are that you will be approved once you do.
Sometimes it might be to your benefit to jump on a phone call with them to ensure that you understand why you were denied, or to get answers to questions you might have. Be aware, you should expect long wait times to speak to a representative regarding your application.
Make Sure to Submit Your Claims for Unemployment Benefits
Once you're finally approved for unemployment benefits, you'll need to submit your first claim. You'll need to continue to do that on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until your benefits run out.
In many states, you have to recertify and request an unemployment payment every week. You should be sure to let them know about any work you've done during the week, as well as any income that you've made. While this information may lower your payment, or make you ineligible for a payment that week, in some cases your benefits window will shift forward to compensate for unpaid weeks. Make sure that you understand the complete process in your state, including what you have to do on an ongoing basis in order to continue to be eligible for benefits, including proof of an active job-search, job training, or qualifying continuing education. Check with your state agency for details.
A Listing of All State Unemployment Offices for All 50 States
To apply for benefits, click the button below for a link to each state’s unemployment website, a listing of how many weeks of unemployment they typically offer, the max weekly benefit and a phone number for the agency handling unemployment claims. To figure out your max benefit take the state's listed amount and add $600 to the total.
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