Over the past few weeks, millions of Americans have started to do something they once thought unimaginable – file for unemployment insurance benefits. American jobs are a very real casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like most, I have friends who have lost work as a result of the novel coronavirus. The past few weeks have left record numbers of people wondering how to file for unemployment.
In the midst of trying times it’s essential to know the steps necessary to cover essentials for yourself and your family. Acting judiciously and wisely will help as you move to get back on your feet.
This guide will help you make informed decisions.
What Does Unemployment Insurance Typically Cover?
Some things are unpredictable. Like losing a job or car troubles. That’s what emergency funds are for. Some things, like the global pandemic we’re facing, are impossible to predict.
Thankfully, there are resources available to help you survive times of uncertainty. Unemployment benefits are one significant resource to help in times of peril.
Unemployment compensation provides temporary income after losing a job. The job loss can be a result of several situations:
- Loss of a job through a layoff
- Job furlough
- Business closure
The key point is losing a job through no fault of your own.
Unemployment benefits are paid for by payroll taxes. Those taxes are through your state and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act.
There is no set federal amount for unemployment insurance as each state manages their respective programs.
The amount you receive and the length you receive benefits may vary from a friend you have in another state, so don’t be surprised if you receive a different amount than them.
Additionally, each state has a maximum amount you can receive. If you’re in a high wage job, you may be shocked at the sight of your first unemployment check.
Your unemployment check won’t be the same amount as your paycheck.
Expanded COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits in the CARES Act
The federal government has passed several Acts to directly provide assistance to Americans during the pandemic. The central Act is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
This is the law that is giving us the COVID-19 stimulus checks, and numerous other avenues for assistance. The checks give up to $1,200 of rebates to adults, and $500 per child.
Rebate checks are coming out in waves. If you’re asking yourself “When am I getting my stimulus check?”, read our guide to learn how to verify the status of your funds.
While the rebates are absolutely necessary, expansion of unemployment insurance benefits offers additional help. Here are the main points of the additional benefits:
- You receive an additional $600 per week in unemployment compensation. This is available through July 31, 2020 and is on top of the amount you receive through your state. For example, if your state offers a max of $450, you can receive $1,050.
- You receive an additional 13 weeks of benefits. Many states provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance. This means you will receive up to 39 weeks of assistance, depending on where you live. This runs through December 31, 2020.
- The one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment is waived. Many states require you to wait one week after losing a job to begin collecting unemployment. This helps you receive assistance quicker.
You can also receive assistance if you’re a part-time employee, independent contractor, or a self-employed person. In short, this Act seeks to help most all workers.
You can read all the details of the CARES Act here at Congress.gov.
Finally, and somewhat related, do you run your own small business? There is help for you as well through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The program aims to provide an incentive for small businesses to keep their employees on the payroll.
You can read all of the details of the PPP here at SBA.gov.
When Will I Receive the $600 Benefit?
When filing your unemployment insurance claim, you may wonder when the additional $600 benefit begins. As you may understand, such a significant federal assistance program takes time to go into effect.
In short, it will depend on your state, but expect it to begin trickling out this week, according to CNN. You must apply for unemployment benefits to receive the additional $600.
If you’re not approved by your state for benefits, you will not receive the extra $600. However, if you are approved, you automatically receive the additional funds.
There’s nothing extra you need to do to receive it.
One last note. Even if it takes several weeks for you to receive the extra $600 per week, the funds are paid retroactive, beginning on April 5, 2020.
How Do I Apply for Unemployment Benefits?
If you’re asking yourself, “How do I apply for unemployment benefits?,” it’s important to know that it varies by state. You can file for unemployment online or over the phone in any state.
You also want to apply as soon as possible after losing your job.
If you call to file for assistance, prepare yourself for a lengthy hold time. If you have the ability, apply online to save time.
You will need to provide some information to file. This information varies by state, but expect to provide the following to apply for unemployment insurance:
- Name, birth date, address, and contact information
- Social Security Number
- Education level
- Your citizenship status
- Direct deposit information, including your bank routing and account numbers
- If you’re disabled
- Name, addresses, and contact information of all companies you have worked for over the past 18 months. You will also need to provide your start and end times for those jobs
- Pay rate at those job(s)
- Answers to why you are no longer employed
Your state may require additional information, but expect to provide this at a minimum. You will not automatically receive funds after this process.
If your state approves your request, you will receive approval notification. The next step is to file a weekly claim.
How to File A Claim
To receive funds, you need to file an unemployment claim online each week. If you don’t file during the week, you won’t receive funds.
Like making your initial request, expect to answer questions about your job search during the week.
Possible questions include:
- Did you turn down work offered by your employer?
- Were you available and looking for work?
- Did you receive sick or vacation pay?
- Were you compensated for performing any work?
Typically, you need to accept the work or actively be looking for work. With the lockdowns associated with coronavirus, that is not the case.
You will receive benefits regardless of most of the answers, but you must still file a weekly unemployment claim.
List of State Unemployment Offices for All 50 States
Each state has its own practice for paying unemployment claims. You can expect to receive payment either weekly or bi-weekly.
Unemployment benefits are taxable if they come from the government, but you get to choose how those funds are withheld.
You can request for the government to deduct ten percent from your check, or you can make estimated quarterly payments.
Additionally, don’t expect it to replace your entire paycheck. Benefits usually pay roughly 45 percent of your income, according to Newsweek.
Payout varies widely, up to a maximum of over $1,000 per week in Massachusetts. However, expect to receive between $300 – $400 in most cases, if you’re employed full-time.
If you work part-time, it’s likely you will receive a lower amount. Lastly, each state varies on length of payments.
This ranges from 12 to 26 weeks, but remember you receive an additional 13 weeks thanks to the CARES Act.
A handful of the states with less of a payout time may extend the term only during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re in a state that pays out for less than 26 weeks, look for announcements on their respective unemployment site.
Here is a table listing, by state, the length they pay benefits, the maximum amount they pay, and a link to the respective state unemployment website.
|State||Max Benefit/Week||Website Link||Max Weeks|
|Alaska||$370 / $442 with dependents||Website||26|
|Connecticut||$649 / $749 with dependents||Website||26|
|Illinois||$484 / $667 with dependents||Website||26|
|Iowa||$481 / $591 with dependents||Website||26|
|Maine||$445 / $667 with dependents||Website||26|
|Massachusetts||$823 / $1,234 with dependents||Website||26|
|Ohio||$480 / $647 with dependents||Website||26|
|Pennsylvania||$572 / $580 with dependents||Website||26|
|Rhode Island||$586 / $867 with dependents||Website||26|
You can find the phone number to apply for unemployment by phone in your state on the respective site. Keep in mind that most will have lengthy hold times, so try to file online if you’re able.
Can I Earn Wages While Collecting Unemployment?
Many want to know if you can earn wages while collecting unemployment. Yes, you can earn wages after filing a jobless claim.
Many states even encourage you to look for ways to make money without a job. However, it’s important to note that in most cases you can only earn a certain amount.
Once you reach a certain level of income while on unemployment it will decrease the amount you will receive from your state. That varies by state, so ask when filing so you don’t get caught by surprise.
Good Side Hustles During Unemployment
Are you interested in earning money while receiving unemployment insurance benefits? Here are several side hustles you can use to earn additional money:
Deliver meals: The on-demand delivery space has exploded with COVID-19. Many people don’t want to leave their houses, yet they still want to enjoy a simple pleasure like eating out.
DoorDash is a terrific app to use to earn money. You can create your own schedule, and the platform pay weekly.
Read our guide on the best paying delivery app gigs to learn more about the platform.
Shopping for groceries: Another sector of the on-demand space is delivering groceries to people.
You can either do the shopping, or shop and deliver to people at home, though the latter has a better earning potential.
Instacart Shopper is a good service to use for work. You get to create your own schedule, and Insatcart pays weekly.
Read our Instacart Shopper driver review to learn more about the platform.
Teaching students online: Do you have a bachelor’s degree and at least one year of teaching experience? If so, you can tutor students from all over the world online, from the comfort of your home.
EF Education First is one of the top platforms in the space. They handle all the curriculum, so all you do is each.
Read our review of the best online tutoring jobs to learn more about the opportunity.
Financial Steps to Take Immediately
Living on unemployment is a significantly stressful economic time, especially during a pandemic. Taking steps to rein in your finances will go a long way to help calm the storm.
Here are a few steps to take while receiving unemployment to help your financial picture.
Save money: If at all possible, try to save money as you’re able. Can you only save $5 per week? Do that! The amount doesn’t matter.
It’s the act of saving that matters. You never know when you will need those funds, so put away what you can.
Cut costs: Cutting costs dovetails with saving money. You want to be able to buy food, keep the lights on, and pay for your rent or mortgage.
Take a serious look at how you can lower your monthly bills to claw back some money. Yes, you want to have things you enjoy, but eating and keeping the lights on take priority.
Avoid debt if at all possible: Though easier said than done, it’s vital to avoid debt if at all possible while on unemployment.
Credit cards may seem like a solution to carry you through this time. They’re not. Accruing significant debt will only make matters worse once you get back on your feet.
Take advantage of other coronavirus benefits: Expansion of unemployment insurance benefits is just one thing the government is doing to help Americans during this time.
It’s possible you will qualify for rent or mortgage relief. Many federal student loan payments are suspended until September 30, 2020. Read our guide on student loans and coronavirus to learn more about what’s available to you as a borrower.
Your bank may also offer benefits on car loans, and more. If you have been negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus, see how your bank might be able to help.
This is a trying time for all of us, but we will survive. If you have lost your job, or face a significant loss in hours, immediately file for unemployment.
The process will take you some time, so don’t wait.
Have you lost your job due to COVID-19? How long did it take you to receive unemployment benefits? What are you doing financially to make it through this time?