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The Covid-19 Unemployment Crisis

Did you lose your job due to the pandemic?

Tens of millions are in the same boat, with Covid-19 unemployment surging in March to May 2020. That means many people, usually coming from certain demographics, have to deal with more uncertainties. As if grappling with the reality of the coronavirus was not enough, now you must face the threat of shrinking funds.

Don’t despair. Systems, although imperfect, are in place to support workers during tough times. For instance, it is your legal right to claim unemployment insurance benefits if you have been forced to leave your job or reduce your hours amid the crisis.

Know what you are entitled to collect from your employer and state.

How Do I File A Claim?

The first step to filing a claim is confirming your eligibility. Guidelines vary by state, but general conditions may apply, such as you lost your last job due to lack of work. You must also meet wage and time requirements in most states. The latter is known as the base period, which usually corresponds to the first four out of five calendar quarters prior to submitting a claim.

If you worked and still live in the same state, you can proceed with the application. Send the form and supporting documents to your State Unemployment Insurance Office.

If you worked in a different state and live in or moved to another, contact the state in which you live to know how you may file a claim.

Some offices allow filing in person, by telephone, or online. And it is recommended that you do it within the first week of your total or partial unemployment.

How Much Will I Get?

The weekly amount you’ll receive will serve as a replacement for your lost wages. So your benefit rate will be based on your gross earnings. You may contact your state unemployment insurance program to discuss this detail.

Alternatively, use this calculator to get an estimate of your weekly benefit rate. Take note that the base period in the sample computation, which states that you must have been paid at least $2,600 in one calendar quarter, applies to New York.

See if you’re also eligible for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits. This program will provide you with the same weekly amount as your regular weekly amount for up to 13 weeks.

PEUC eligibility also entitles you to an additional $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits. Take advantage of the remaining weeks before this program expires on July 25, 2020.

As millions upon millions of Americans applied for unemployment insurance, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March. This bill created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which allows previously ineligible individuals to claim unemployment benefits.

Self-employed and gig workers did not usually qualify for state unemployment insurance programs.

What If I Was Fired?

If you were laid off through no fault of your own, usually due to economic reasons, you qualify for unemployment benefits. But what if you were fired because you refused to go to work because of coronavirus concerns? You might still be eligible to file a claim.

Your state might allow you to apply if you raised your concerns about undue exposure to Covid-19 at work, and your employer failed to institute protective measures. Then you were fired for refusing to work under these conditions.

However, if you chose to stay home even with the provision of proper training and equipment, most states will likely deem you ineligible.

If you’re not convinced that your employer did enough to ensure a safe and healthful workplace, you can file an unemployment claim and let the agency decide your eligibility.

Meanwhile, some grounds for getting fired bar workers automatically from claiming benefits:

  • Committing a crime
  • Failing a drug or alcohol test
  • Theft
  • Violating safety rules

What If I Quit?

If you quit your job due to a risk of exposure or infection, you may be entitled to unemployment compensation. Leaving your employment to care for a family member is another acceptable reason in this regard.

Under normal circumstances, those who quit with good cause are allowed to receive benefits. Change in job duties, discrimination, harassment, lack of payment, and some types of family emergencies are examples of good cause.

Resigning from your job without good cause automatically disqualifies you from claiming benefits, even during the Covid-19 crisis.

What If I Just Graduated?

Under the CARES Act, working college students and new graduates with a firm job offer can receive unemployment benefits.

The expanded eligibility considers students who are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable/unavailable to work due to Covid-19-related causes. For example, you may have been diagnosed with or have symptoms of the disease. Or you may be caring for a family member. Travel restrictions can also keep recent graduates from getting to work and start their employment.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrator (NASFAA) says the following types of students can seek assistance from the state agencies:

  • Students enrolled full-time and working part-time;
  • Students enrolled part-time and working but had insufficient wages to qualify for regular benefits;
  • Students graduating in spring 2020 who lost a job during the semester due to COVID-19 (regardless of whether they had secured a post-graduation employment offer); 
  • Students working in the gig economy (e.g., Uber or Lyft workers) or as self-employed individuals (e.g., tutors, etc.) but lost that income stream due to COVID-19; and
  • Recent graduates who have a post-graduation or summer offer of employment that falls through due to COVID-19, even if they were not working while enrolled in school.

About 11 million college students work, with three-quarters doing part-time and the remaining quarter doing full-time.

What If My Internship Was Cancelled?

Job market prospects have become bleak, but internship openings have had it worse. Internship hiring on Glassdoor fell 52% between March 9 and April 13. You may be one of those affected by this turn of events.

Just like new grads with rescinded job offers, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits if your internship was curtailed when the coronavirus hit. Through the PUA program, you can claim a weekly benefit amount for up to 39 weeks.

Your unemployment period should have begun on or after January 27, 2020, and end on or before December 31, 2020, to be accepted.

Do I Keep Applying for Jobs Anyway?

Yes, you must! Various industries took a hit and were forced to reduce their workforces during the coronavirus pandemic. However, millions of opportunities open up as companies start hiring or plan to hire to meet increased consumer demand. The retail industry is one example, with the likes of CVS, Home Depot, Target, UPS, and Walmart leading the way.

These employers will start filling the gaps that Covid-19 has created. Emerging jobs in the gig economy may also offer respite to individuals who are wary of traveling to and from work. If taking part in a small enterprise excites you, consider joining one that’s bouncing back from the impact of the recession.

Applying for a job during this crisis can raise your chances of getting hired, which can then improve your financial situation. Besides, the unemployment benefits will not last forever. And so will this virus.

How Do I Challenge A Denial of Benefits?

The coronavirus pandemic response, the passing of the CARES Act, and the creation of the PUA program have made it possible for the State Unemployment Insurance agencies to accommodate more individuals.

Self-employed individuals, gig workers, and working students can qualify for benefits if they lose their job due to the Covid-19 situation.

If your unemployment claim was denied based on the old rules, you might be allowed to apply for unemployment benefits under the PUA program. You may file a separate claim or wait for a regular unemployment denial depending on your state.

Should you need to appeal the decision, make sure to check your state agency’s website regarding the process. For instance, Connecticut posts the details of its procedure here. It says that you have 21 calendar days from the predetermination hearing to file an appeal. Another 21 days, from the date of the Referee’s decision, is set for filing an appeal to the Board of Review.

To successfully appeal an unemployment decision, you may hire an experienced lawyer to help you navigate the rules and requirements of the state you’re in.

More information on unemployment insurance benefits:

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