How Expanded Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits Work

A historic $2 trillion spending package significantly bolsters relief to millions of Americans left jobless by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act expands unemployment benefits to include part-time and self-employed workers, including contractors and gig workers. It also supplements state benefits with an additional $600 per week, which more than doubles the weekly maximum unemployment benefits in most states.

Beyond expanding unemployment, the act also provides billions of dollars in emergency funding for hospitals and businesses affected by the coronavirus and includes direct relief payments to most Americans.

If you’re out of work or have lost hours due to the coronavirus, here’s what you need to know.

Who qualifies

Under the CARES Act, you can receive unemployment benefits if you are unable to work or are working reduced hours as a result of the coronavirus. That includes people who are directly impacted by the virus — those who have symptoms, are quarantined or are caring for someone who has COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

You’re also covered under the following circumstances:

  • Your workplace closed due to the public health emergency.
  • You had to quit your job because of the coronavirus.
  • You can’t work because you are a caregiver to someone whose school or other facility closed and you need to care for them.
  • You were supposed to start a job but it fell through or you can’t get there because of the coronavirus.

The CARES Act also extends benefits to people who are self-employed (including gig and contract workers), work part-time or who normally wouldn’t qualify for unemployment benefits because they lack sufficient work history.

You do not qualify for unemployment benefits if you are able to work from home with pay or are getting paid leave while out of work.

How much money to expect

Weekly unemployment benefits will consist of two parts:

  1. The benefit amount allowed in your state. The formula used to calculate this amount varies by state, as does the maximum weekly benefit.
  2. An additional $600 per week of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, available until July 31, 2020. You can receive this amount even if you’ve exhausted your state benefits.

It’s important to note: The $600-per-week pandemic compensation does not impact your eligibility for income-based health insurance like Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

States are awaiting federal guidance on how to distribute the additional $600 per week, so it may be a few weeks before you see that money, even if you are receiving state unemployment benefits.

How to apply for unemployment insurance

Contact your state’s unemployment office to apply for benefits. You can typically file your claim online, over the phone or in person if necessary, but keep in mind: Not everyone who is newly-eligible will be able to complete a claim right away.

That’s because state unemployment agencies are still awaiting guidance from the Department of Labor on how to implement various pieces of the CARES Act, so they aren’t yet equipped to process new types of claims allowed under the law.

Continue to check your state’s website and sign up for coronavirus email updates, if offered. Your state unemployment office’s Facebook and Twitter accounts can also be great resources for updates and guidance as it is available.

Information needed for your claim will vary by state, but in most cases, you’ll need the following:

Your information

  • Your name, Social Security number and driver’s license number (if you have one). If you are a noncitizen, you will need your alien registration number and expiration date.
  • Your mailing address and phone number.
  • Your bank information (address, routing number and account number) for direct deposit. This is typically optional.

You will also need employment information for your most recent employer, as well as any employer you’ve worked for over the past 18 to 24 months. In many states, processes are still being updated to accommodate self-employed workers and independent contractors, who can’t certify income with a W-2.

Your employment history

  • The name of your employer (as it appears on your pay stub or W-2).
  • The complete address and phone number of the employer.
  • Your supervisor’s name.
  • Your start and end date.
  • Your wage information, including how you were paid (hourly, weekly, monthly).
  • The reason you are no longer working.

Be prepared for delays when filing your claim. The recent influx of applications — more than 10 million people filed for unemployment in March — is jamming phone lines and causing websites to crash. Plan on it taking a few tries to complete your application.

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