As millions of Americans experience the financial and emotional pain of layoffs, Uncle Sam is trying to step up and handle the situation with new rules and extra benefits via unemployment insurance.
First and foremost, the federal government is adding $600 a week to existing state unemployment insurance programs, giving laid-off career professionals 39 weeks of added cash benefits.
That goes for full-time salaried workers and self-employed “gig” workers, as well. Truly, the pandemic has triggered an “all hands on deck” scenario on providing adequate financial support for newly-unemployed workers, and help is already on the way.
Getting the Most From Unemployment Benefits
For unemployed workers who just got the news they’ve been laid off, or furloughed professionals who aren’t sure how to access unemployment benefits in a highly chaotic landscape, job one is to figure out how to properly fill out unemployment forms to max out potential benefits.
Here’s a blueprint to get that task completed, with action steps included:
Getting a grip on unemployment insurance. Before you can apply for unemployment insurance in the age of COVID-19, you should know exactly that the term means (that knowledge can help max out on potential benefits.)
In a word, unemployment insurance steers cash benefits, typically paid out once—weekly, to eligible career professionals who lost a job through no fault of their own. While most unemployment payments are made by the state where the furloughed worker resides, the entire U.S. unemployment system is managed by a combination of the U.S. Department of Labor and each of the nation’s 50 states.
What has changed with unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 crisis? The coronavirus menace has resulted in millions of Americans filing for unemployment benefits, as a result of getting laid off from their jobs. All told, 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment from mid-March through April 23, putting the nation into near-economic depression status.
To respond to the crisis, Congress passed legislation that significantly boosted unemployment benefits. That legislation, more formally known, as The Federal CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020.
In the legislation, lawmakers expanded unemployment benefits, especially plan eligibility, thus making workers eligible for unemployment payments in the following ways:
- The worker was laid off for reasons directly linked to the COVID-19 crisis.
- The worker’s hours were curbed as a direct result of COVID-19.
- The worker was classified as self-employed and lost income from customers/clients directly due to the COVID-19 crisis.
- The worker is/was quarantined as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, the worker may have lost the ability to generate an income because he or she was unable to work because of exposure to the coronavirus.
- The worker is caring for a family member suffering from COVID-19.
As for the unemployment benefits added via the CARES Act, the legislation makes the following additions:
- It boosts the weekly benefit for laid-off workers by $600 – that’s on top of any benefits provided by the state to the unemployed worker.
- It adds 13 weeks of cash benefits to existing unemployed workers who still can’t find work after the state unemployment benefits expire.
Applying for Unemployment Insurance: Action Steps
First, check with your state’s unemployment office for any directives that are unique to your state, but may not be in play in other states. This federal government website gives links to the unemployment sites for each of the 50 U.S. states.
It’s important you take this first action step to apply for unemployment insurance. Chances are, your state has different ways of applying for unemployment and the best way to find that out is to visit your state’s unemployment office website.
It’s also worth noting that, given the highly dynamic flow of information on the pandemic itself, and on resulting government policy steps to deal with financial fallout from the resulting layoffs and lockdowns, states continue to update their unemployment processes on a regular basis. That’s why you may see terms like “benefits not updated yet” when you visit your state unemployment office’s web site.
That’s okay. Go ahead and apply for benefits anyway. State regulators note that even though some unemployment policies are updating new government statutes, furloughed workers are encouraged to apply for insurance benefits as soon as possible.
It’s important to get in line as soon as possible to increase your chances of getting the maximum benefits allowed under federal and state unemployment payment guidelines.
Filling Out the Application
When you get to your state’s unemployment application page, adhere to the rules and complete your unemployment insurance form accurately and thoroughly.
You’ll need to file your application for unemployment using your Social Security number and the name (spelled correctly) that appears on your Social Security card.
Your Social Security number is your gateway to the actual unemployment application form. There, you’ll be asked to fill in the following information:
Your full name (first, last and middle initial)
Your mailing address
Your phone number and email address
Confirmation that you’re a U.S. citizen. (If not, you’ll be asked for your alien registration number.)
Your tax withholding preference (i.e., do you want federal tax withholding to apply to your cash benefit?)
Your nationality (i.e., American Indian, white, black, Latino, Asian for example)
Name, address and contact number for your former employer (you can count on unemployment agency staffers to contact your old company to confirm your unemployment status.)
Date of your layoff or furlough. That’s the date you were notified of the loss of work. It’s vital that you file for unemployment benefits as soon as possible after this date, as any delays in applying could jeopardize benefits.
Your bank routing and checking account numbers. These days, most unemployment payments are transmitted directly to your bank account.
Date and sign your application form and hit “send.” By and large, it takes two or three weeks after filing for unemployment for your first payment to hit your bank account.
States are largely waiving the traditional “one week waiting period” for unemployment insurance applications. That’s due to the severity of the pandemic and the need to get cash to unemployed workers as soon as possible.
The Takeaway on Filing for Unemployment Insurance in the Age of Pandemic
The keys to receiving unemployment insurance after a COVID-19-related workplace layoff are to file fast and file accurately.
Complete those two tasks and your chances of receiving your maximum unemployment compensation rises significantly.
That’s reason enough to get cracking on your unemployment insurance application. It’s a financial lifeline that should not be taken lightly – and should be given high priority status for laid-off Americans.