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How to claim unemployment

We are truly living in unprecedented times. Due to the impacts of COVID-19, unemployment claims in the United States reached an all-time high in March of 2020. If you are one of the many people facing challenges due to lost wages, business closures, or layoffs, you are not alone. Fortunately, the Federal Government is taking steps to make unemployment benefits available to those affected by these shutdowns.

We understand that determining where and how to go about filing for unemployment can be confusing, so we’ve compiled all the information you’ll need to make the process as easy and efficient as possible. With this information, you will get a better understanding of how to claim unemployment, and you will be able to focus on what matters most: the safety and well-being of your loved ones.

How COVID-19 has affected unemployment benefits

The Coronavirus stimulus bill, also called CARES Act, which was passed at the end of March, now makes unemployment benefits available to a greater scope of Americans who are unable to work due to COVID-19. In addition to individuals who previously qualified for unemployment, anyone who meets one or more of the following conditions can also apply for unemployment benefits:

  • You are unable to work because your employer has temporarily suspended operations due to COVID-19.
  • You are in quarantine and intend to return to work once you’ve recovered.
  • You are unable to work due to risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • You are unable to work because you need to care for a family member who has been affected by COVID-19.
  • You are self-employed or work as an independent contractor and have lost wages due to COVID-19.
  • Your employer has cut back your work hours due to COVID-19.

How to claim unemployment in 3 steps

Regardless of the circumstances that have led your needing unemployment benefits, receiving them in a timely manner is likely your top priority. Your living expenses haven’t been put on hold just because your income has been paused.

While it will take some time before you receive your first unemployment check, there are things you can do to speed up the process. This step-by-step guide will help you know what to prepare and how to apply and will get you on the road to receiving unemployment benefits:

1. Gather necessary documents.

Make sure you have all of the required documents together before you apply for unemployment benefits. Having everything ready ahead of time will help ensure that the application process goes smoothly.

The specific items needed will vary based on where you live, so you’ll want to check with your state government's website, but this is a list of the most commonly required documentation:

  • Driver’s license or state-issued ID
  • Social Security card
  • Your most recent employer’s company name, physical mailing address, and phone number, and the contact information for your direct supervisor at the company
  • The date and reason your employment was suspended or terminated
  • Your precise gross earnings during the last week you were employed
  • A detailed work history over the last two years (some states accept a shorter time frame)
  • Federal employees will need to fill out Standard Form 8
  • Former members of the military will need to present their DD-214 Member 4 form

2. Complete the application for unemployment benefits.

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, many states are either encouraging (or, at this time, only accepting) online applications. In some states, you can even apply for unemployment insurance from a mobile device. Your state’s specific web page will provide a detailed explanation of how to claim unemployment based on where you live. If you live and work in different states, you may need to file for unemployment in the state where you work.

3. Fulfill the requirement to register for work.

In order to comply with most states’ unemployment guidelines, you will need to register for work after completing your unemployment application. This shows the government that you are willing to work if a job becomes available, and that you are actively seeking new employment. Your state’s unemployment website will have specific guidelines for this.

Common unemployment benefits questions

Below you will find a list of commonly asked questions regarding how to claim unemployment insurance and benefits. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, you can reach out to your state unemployment office via their website or phone.

We will also be updating this web page to provide the most current information available during these difficult times.

  1. Can I claim unemployment while working part time? In certain cases, yes. Some states offer partial unemployment benefits to individuals who are still working part time.
  2. Do I qualify for unemployment as a freelancer? Typically, freelancers do not qualify for unemployment benefits, but newly enacted federal laws now allow states to extend benefits to gig workers and individuals who were previously self-employed.
  3. Can I file my weekly claim late? It is in your best interest to file on time, but most states offer a grace period for late filing. However, filing a weekly claim late can cause delays in the amount of time it will take for your payment to arrive.
  4. How many jobs do I need to apply for? While you receive unemployment benefits, you are typically expected to be looking for a new job. The documentation required to support this varies depending on which state you live in. Many states require you to show that you have made contact with two to three potential employers per week, while others require monthly documentation. However, due to the effects of COVID-19, many states are not requiring this documentation at this time.
  5. How long will I receive benefits? Most states will provide unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks, and newly enacted federal laws have increased this time frame by an additional 13 weeks.
  6. How much unemployment will I get? The amount of unemployment insurance you receive is typically no more than half the gross weekly amount you were earning before you became unemployed. Each state has a unique calculation method, as well as a minimum and maximum benefit amount. For example, the maximum for California is $450 per week. However, the new Coronavirus stimulus bill increased the amount of unemployment insurance that states can provide to individuals by $600 per week (this means the new temporary maximum for California is now $1,050 per week).

Getting Coronavirus unemployment benefits ASAP

We understand that during these uncertain times, any amount of assistance can go a long way. Follow the steps above to ensure that you’re getting your unemployment benefits as soon as possible. Stay safe, stay healthy, and remember: we’re all in this together.

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