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What US unemployment benefits can I get during the coronavirus? Your payment options explained What US unemployment benefits can I get during the coronavirus? Your payment options explained
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Federal and state governments are moving to pass relief packages, but some states may struggle to process a deluge of claimsFederal and state governments are moving to pass relief packages, but some states may struggle to process a deluge of claims
As a global health crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic careens toward an economic disaster, Americans facing financial hardship are flooding state unemployment departments.As a global health crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic careens toward an economic disaster, Americans facing financial hardship are flooding state unemployment departments.
By last week, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits had surged in an increase unseen since 2012. The downturn is already rippling across numerous industries – restaurants are closing their doors, newspapers are folding and the film and TV industry is grinding to a halt.By last week, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits had surged in an increase unseen since 2012. The downturn is already rippling across numerous industries – restaurants are closing their doors, newspapers are folding and the film and TV industry is grinding to a halt.
Economists see the job losses as the opening act to the country’s first recession in 11 years – a downturn that could hit hardest in California.Economists see the job losses as the opening act to the country’s first recession in 11 years – a downturn that could hit hardest in California.
State and federal government are moving quickly to pass economic relief packages for those who have lost jobs or work-hours, but experts warn that states like California may struggle to keep pace and process a deluge of new unemployment claims at once.State and federal government are moving quickly to pass economic relief packages for those who have lost jobs or work-hours, but experts warn that states like California may struggle to keep pace and process a deluge of new unemployment claims at once.
Here’s what you need to know about filing for unemployment and getting access to money as quick as possible.Here’s what you need to know about filing for unemployment and getting access to money as quick as possible.
What’s unemployment compensation?What’s unemployment compensation?
Unemployment benefits are designed to help people who are out of work through no fault of their own. They’re meant as a stopgap measure, a way to temporarily maintain a portion of income until someone can find a new job.Unemployment benefits are designed to help people who are out of work through no fault of their own. They’re meant as a stopgap measure, a way to temporarily maintain a portion of income until someone can find a new job.
In response to coronavirus fallout, national lawmakers have made a broader group of people eligible for unemployment relief, including workers who are sick or have been quarantined, those who have been laid off or had hours reduced due to the outbreak and people who can’t work because they have to care for children.In response to coronavirus fallout, national lawmakers have made a broader group of people eligible for unemployment relief, including workers who are sick or have been quarantined, those who have been laid off or had hours reduced due to the outbreak and people who can’t work because they have to care for children.
In most cases, self-employed and independent contract workers – such as rideshare drivers and freelance writers – aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, even though a California law that took effect in January reclassified them as employees.In most cases, self-employed and independent contract workers – such as rideshare drivers and freelance writers – aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, even though a California law that took effect in January reclassified them as employees.
In California someone can collect either unemployment or disability insurance, depending on why they left work. Unemployment benefits typically last up to 26 weeks; disability insurance claims can last up to 52 weeks.In California someone can collect either unemployment or disability insurance, depending on why they left work. Unemployment benefits typically last up to 26 weeks; disability insurance claims can last up to 52 weeks.
But that could change if the federal government grants extensions. Barack Obama extended benefits several times between 2009 and 2013 to deal with rising unemployment rates during the Great Recession.But that could change if the federal government grants extensions. Barack Obama extended benefits several times between 2009 and 2013 to deal with rising unemployment rates during the Great Recession.
How does it work?How does it work?
The process varies across states, but follows a general pattern that aligns with federal guidelines.The process varies across states, but follows a general pattern that aligns with federal guidelines.
After a person’s last day of work, they file a claim with their state’s unemployment department, listing income and the reason they stopped working. States like California are encouraging people to file online as a way to expedite claims.After a person’s last day of work, they file a claim with their state’s unemployment department, listing income and the reason they stopped working. States like California are encouraging people to file online as a way to expedite claims.
The department contacts your last employer to verify information, and determines a weekly benefit amount based on past earnings and the reason they stopped working.The department contacts your last employer to verify information, and determines a weekly benefit amount based on past earnings and the reason they stopped working.
Californians who are sick or quarantined would see 60 to 70% of typical earnings, ranging from $50 to $1,300 a week. Those who have had hours cut would get less. The state’s unemployment department has published additional guidance.Californians who are sick or quarantined would see 60 to 70% of typical earnings, ranging from $50 to $1,300 a week. Those who have had hours cut would get less. The state’s unemployment department has published additional guidance.
How long will it take to get paid?How long will it take to get paid?
The department says that it generally takes a couple of weeks from the time a person files to when they can access money.The department says that it generally takes a couple of weeks from the time a person files to when they can access money.
That’s the best-case scenario; it would most likely apply when cases are clearcut and doctors or employers are quick to respond and verify information.That’s the best-case scenario; it would most likely apply when cases are clearcut and doctors or employers are quick to respond and verify information.
If doctors or employers delay, or if details are missed on paperwork, it could slow the process considerably, potentially adding weeks or months of wait-time. The sudden spike in claims may also make it increasingly difficult to speak with a live customer service representative over the phone if a claim gets hung up.If doctors or employers delay, or if details are missed on paperwork, it could slow the process considerably, potentially adding weeks or months of wait-time. The sudden spike in claims may also make it increasingly difficult to speak with a live customer service representative over the phone if a claim gets hung up.
How many new claims will unemployment departments see?How many new claims will unemployment departments see?
It’s impossible to say for sure. The US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, warned this week the national unemployment rate could soar from record lows and reach upwards of 20%.It’s impossible to say for sure. The US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, warned this week the national unemployment rate could soar from record lows and reach upwards of 20%.
State unemployment systems were overwhelmed by a sudden surge of new claims. About 15,000 people in New Jersey applied for unemployment benefits on Monday, a twelvefold increase over normal levels. Connecticut saw an eightfold increase over the weekend.State unemployment systems were overwhelmed by a sudden surge of new claims. About 15,000 people in New Jersey applied for unemployment benefits on Monday, a twelvefold increase over normal levels. Connecticut saw an eightfold increase over the weekend.
California, one of the state’s hardest hit by the coronavirus, is expecting a huge jump in unemployment seekers. Spokespeople from the California’s unemployment department said the state’s numbers aren’t yet available for this week. But the week after Newsom issued a state-wide stay-at-home order, closing doors to non-essential businesses and putting legions of Californians out of work, the governor said the department that typically handles 2,000 claims a day saw 100,000 on a single day. California, one of the state’s hardest hit by the coronavirus, is expecting a huge jump in unemployment insurance seekers. Spokespeople from the California’s unemployment department said the state’s numbers aren’t yet available for this week. But the week after Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order, closing doors to non-essential businesses and putting legions of Californians out of work, the governor said the department that typically handles 2,000 claims a day saw 100,000 on a single day.
Newsom said 1 million new claims had been filed between March 13 and March 24. Newsom said 1 million new claims had been filed between 13 and 24 March.
How will coronavirus affect the process?How will coronavirus affect the process?
The federal government granted states extra flexibility on how to handle unemployment claims during the pandemic.The federal government granted states extra flexibility on how to handle unemployment claims during the pandemic.
Those who aren’t working because they’re sick or quarantined must provide evidence from a healthcare professional who has treated them or ordered them to isolate.Those who aren’t working because they’re sick or quarantined must provide evidence from a healthcare professional who has treated them or ordered them to isolate.
Someone who isn’t sick or quarantined must still be looking for work and will be required to contact a certain number of employers, depending on the state.Someone who isn’t sick or quarantined must still be looking for work and will be required to contact a certain number of employers, depending on the state.
But hiring freezes, business shutdowns, and the ability to safely look for work could pose new challenges to those on the job hunt.But hiring freezes, business shutdowns, and the ability to safely look for work could pose new challenges to those on the job hunt.
How is the unemployment department preparing to meet a spike in new claims?How is the unemployment department preparing to meet a spike in new claims?
States across the country will face a flood of new unemployment claims, but California, the nation’s most populous state, may be caught particularly off guard to meet demands.States across the country will face a flood of new unemployment claims, but California, the nation’s most populous state, may be caught particularly off guard to meet demands.
Loree Levy, California unemployment department’s top spokesperson, said the surge is unique from those seen during the last recession, when state unemployment departments had time to prepare. Loree Levy, the California unemployment department’s top spokeswoman, said the surge is unique from those seen during the last recession, when state unemployment departments had time to prepare.
“Typically, claims ramp up. But this is a big slam all at once. It’s a serious challenge. We’re throwing everything we have at it,” Levy said.“Typically, claims ramp up. But this is a big slam all at once. It’s a serious challenge. We’re throwing everything we have at it,” Levy said.
Levy said department staffers have been working overtime and on weekends to process claims. The department is also shifting workers from other departments to help process claims, and is looking to retirees who know the system to come back to work.Levy said department staffers have been working overtime and on weekends to process claims. The department is also shifting workers from other departments to help process claims, and is looking to retirees who know the system to come back to work.
The department is also looking to add new staff members, but Levy cautioned that this may not help in the short term. “Hiring is not an immediate fix,” she said. “It takes several months for someone to be efficient” in processing claims, she said.The department is also looking to add new staff members, but Levy cautioned that this may not help in the short term. “Hiring is not an immediate fix,” she said. “It takes several months for someone to be efficient” in processing claims, she said.
Further complicating matters is the very reason for the unemployment deluge – a highly contagious disease – which will pose new and difficult staffing challenges to process claims. Levy said the department is looking at ways to prepare more of its staff to work remotely.Further complicating matters is the very reason for the unemployment deluge – a highly contagious disease – which will pose new and difficult staffing challenges to process claims. Levy said the department is looking at ways to prepare more of its staff to work remotely.
“I think that’s what made this so complex. We’re concerned about our own employees, but we’re also concerned about providing benefits in a timely manner,” Levy said.“I think that’s what made this so complex. We’re concerned about our own employees, but we’re also concerned about providing benefits in a timely manner,” Levy said.
What’s next?What’s next?
Because funding for state unemployment departments – money that pays for staffing and infrastructure – are based on recent years’ unemployment rates, and because those rates have fallen to record lows, states now face a unique challenge in responding to a crushing demand after years of paring down departments. Because funding for state unemployment departments – money that pays for staffing and infrastructure – is based on recent years’ unemployment rates, and because those rates have fallen to record lows, states now face a unique challenge in responding to a crushing demand after years of paring down departments.
“People have been saying for years that the systems are antiquated, and I think we’re going to come to regret that,” said Jesse Rothstein, a labor economist and professor at University of California, Berkeley.“People have been saying for years that the systems are antiquated, and I think we’re going to come to regret that,” said Jesse Rothstein, a labor economist and professor at University of California, Berkeley.
Unemployment trust funds, which provide money to pay out benefits, could also go broke – a concern economists have raised for years. If that happens, states would have to borrow funds from the federal government.Unemployment trust funds, which provide money to pay out benefits, could also go broke – a concern economists have raised for years. If that happens, states would have to borrow funds from the federal government.
To be ready to respond to a recession, a state should have enough money in its reserve to pay out benefits for a year.To be ready to respond to a recession, a state should have enough money in its reserve to pay out benefits for a year.
Michele Evermore, a researcher and policy analyst at National Employment Law Project, said that California may be least prepared of any state to stay solvent.Michele Evermore, a researcher and policy analyst at National Employment Law Project, said that California may be least prepared of any state to stay solvent.
That’s why she said it’s crucial for Congress to pass economic relief like the package Donald Trump signed this week, which includes money to boost state unemployment departments’ administrative funding and allow them to build up departments to meet demand.That’s why she said it’s crucial for Congress to pass economic relief like the package Donald Trump signed this week, which includes money to boost state unemployment departments’ administrative funding and allow them to build up departments to meet demand.
“We’re very much on the right track,” Evermore said, but added the government will need to soon make more support available.“We’re very much on the right track,” Evermore said, but added the government will need to soon make more support available.
On Wednesday, White House and Senate leaders reached a deal on the biggest bailout in history, a $2tn rescue package for the US economy ravaged by the coronavirus.On Wednesday, White House and Senate leaders reached a deal on the biggest bailout in history, a $2tn rescue package for the US economy ravaged by the coronavirus.
For workers, the aid would look a lot like benefits they would receive under disaster unemployment assistance, which applies to those not already covered by traditional unemployment benefits, such as ride-share drivers and those who are self-employed. It would also provide an extra $600 a week layered on top of traditional unemployment benefits, which now covers the broader group of people.For workers, the aid would look a lot like benefits they would receive under disaster unemployment assistance, which applies to those not already covered by traditional unemployment benefits, such as ride-share drivers and those who are self-employed. It would also provide an extra $600 a week layered on top of traditional unemployment benefits, which now covers the broader group of people.
Rothstein said it’s important for Congress to act quickly: “This is going to be a tidal wave and we need the federal government to open up the checkbook.” Rothstein said it was important for Congress to act quickly: “This is going to be a tidal wave and we need the federal government to open up the checkbook.”