Who Can and Can’t Receive Unemployment Compensation

There’s a great deal of confusion surrounding who is eligible for unemployment insurance, so BILLSHARK wants to try to cut through some of that fog.

On October 4, 2019, the White House noted that in the third quarter of 2019, U.S. unemployment had fallen to a 50-year low.

Three weeks ago, 3.3 million Americans had filed for unemployment compensation in the wake of job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, the Department of Labor said that spike was “the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims” in history; the previous high was 695,000 in 1982.

In the last week of March, an additional 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance, while another 6.6 million did so in the first week of April, bringing the total to over 17 million so far, or about 10 percent of the workforce. In comparison, from the peak of the Great Recession to the end (18 months), a total of 8.7 million Americans filed for benefits.

Which explains why, if you’re trying to file for unemployment compensation, it’s nearly impossible to get through by phone or online. The various states’ systems were not set up to handle such a tidal wave of applications.

In addition, many states’ systems are antiquated, dating from the 1980s or earlier, and some were even deliberately designed to prevent as many people as possible from receiving unemployment benefits (to please the states’ business communities, which pay unemployment insurance taxes).

About unemployment insurance

Each state has its own rules regarding unemployment compensation, including differing lengths, eligibility requirements, benefit amounts, and so on, and each state has different rules on how to apply.

Some require an online application followed up by a phone call to complete the claim, others allow you to apply simply by filling out a form online (unless you live in Florida, where the archaic system crashed and is now forcing workers to stand in long lines to receive paper applications).

Benefits are typically determined by your income over the past year but usually, amount to only a fraction of what you used to make. The weekly benefit amount ranges from a low of $235 Mississippi to a high of $823 in Massachusetts.

It normally takes about two weeks from the time you apply to when you begin receiving the money.

Congress to the rescue

The good news is that the recently passed economic relief package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security (CARES) Act, not only provides an additional $600 per month on top of whatever your state would normally pay but also extends the period you can receive benefits for another 13 weeks beyond whatever time limit your state usually sets.

The CARES Act also waives the usual one-week delay after a loss of a job to apply for benefits, so you can now apply on the day you lose your job, or are furloughed (i.e., temporarily laid off).

The CARES act also provided $500 million to the states to hire temporary staff and upgrade their computer systems, but it will likely take a few weeks before applicants notice a difference in wait times. For what it’s worth, whenever you do manage to get through, you will receive payments retroactive to April 5th.

You can find details about your state’s unemployment program here: https://www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/UnemploymentBenefits/find-unemployment-benefits.aspx.

Who is eligible

The CARES act also extends unemployment benefits to people who may not have been laid off but who are unable to work as a result of the coronavirus, including those who are sick or quarantined as a result of COVID-19, caring for someone who is, or who have to care for a child forced to stay home as a result of school closures.

It also includes many who are not usually eligible for unemployment compensation. The law now offers benefits to self-employed workers, including independent contractors, freelancers, workers seeking part-time work, and those who do not have a long enough work history to qualify for state unemployment insurance in normal times.

Those who aren’t eligible include anyone who is able to perform their job through telework, or who are receiving paid sick days or paid leave.

If you’re in doubt about whether you qualify, go ahead and file—chances are you are eligible unless you’re being paid in some other way, such as through short- or long-term disability.

Hang in there

Given the herculean task of getting through either by phone or online, we recommend you do not wait to begin trying. And don’t give up. Consider getting through to file an application your full-time job now, and think about applying in the wee hours of the morning—you may have better luck when most people are asleep.

Despite the nationwide logjam, hundreds of thousands have already been able to get through the system and have begun receiving benefits. Eventually, you will too so summon up your patience and keep trying!

BILLSHARK can help wit your finances in at least one way, by lowering some of your bills, including Internet, wireless, pay TV and satellite radio. Send them to us and we will review them for free. Remember, you pay only if we can save you money.

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