In the third installment of our five-part series on surviving sudden unemployment, we look at government assistance to help you cope.
If you were furloughed from your job, look into filing for unemployment benefits immediately.
The unemployment insurance system (UI) is a partnership of the federal government and state programs. Created in 1935, contributions are paid into the system on behalf of workers so they have an income if they lose their jobs. The basic UI program is managed by the states, although the U.S. Department of Labor oversees the system. States provide most of the funding and administer the benefit payments. Although states must follow federal requirements, they generally establish their own eligibility criteria and benefit levels.
Check and see if your state offers an unemployment benefits calculator. (A simple Google search can identify if one is available.) There are two types of unemployment calculators — one that tells you how much money you are entitled to collect, and another which tells you how many weeks you are eligible to collect unemployment.
You must meet eligibility requirements, but you can determine these from your state’s unemployment office. You may even be eligible for benefits (even partial benefits) if you work part-time. You may also be eligible to collect unemployment benefits while you are collecting other benefits from your current position. Getting paid for unused vacation time you accrued normally does not affect your eligibility. However, you will not be eligible for benefits if you continue to receive your full salary and benefits your employer paid while you were employed.
Regular unemployment insurance benefits — in most states — run for 26 weeks (plus one unpaid “waiting week”). For people who have not yet found a job within that time frame, Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) and Extended Benefits (EB) offer additional compensation. Each of these programs has a different deadline. Consequently, the number of weeks you are eligible for will depend on when you filed your original claim.
Your unemployment payment depends on your weekly earnings prior to being laid off, and the maximum amount of unemployment benefits available (this will vary by state). Unemployment benefits typically replace about half of your previous earnings, subject to a maximum benefit level.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average unemployment benefits nationwide was $387 per week in February 2020. The maximum state-provided weekly benefit ranges from $215 in Mississippi to $550 in Massachusetts. (Some states offer higher benefits to jobseekers with dependents. Check your state benefit details to see if this is the case in your state.)
Because the benefit is subject to a cap, unemployment insurance benefits replace a smaller share of previous earnings for higher-wage workers than for lower-wage workers.
The permanent Extended Benefits (EB) program typically provides an additional 13 or 20 weeks of compensation to the unemployed who have exhausted their regular benefits in states where the unemployment situation has worsened dramatically.
You may also qualify for unemployment benefits from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic if:
- Your employer closed
- Your hours were reduced
- You or someone in your household is quarantined
- You or someone you are caring for is “high risk” (older adults and/or persons with serious chronic medical conditions)
- You have a lack of childcare due to the Coronavirus (i.e., your childcare closed)
You may not be eligible if you quit your job because you are worried about contracting Coronavirus at work. Check with your state’s unemployment office before quitting your job. Each state’s guidelines vary. For example, in the state of Nebraska, you may still be eligible to collect unemployment benefits if you quit your job but have “good cause” for quitting — for reasons including (but not limited to), the conditions of work, compelling health reasons, or quitting to escape spousal abuse.
Note: If you stayed home from your job because you were worried about contracting Coronavirus, you may not be eligible for unemployment compensation. The CARES Act excludes individuals who have the ability to work from home with pay from collecting unemployment. It also excludes those who are currently receiving paid or sick leave.