A Guide to Navigating Unemployment in the Midst of COVID-19

McKenna Janzen | May 12, 2020

Due to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, unfortunately, over 20.5 million of jobs have been lost in the U.S. in April. At GigSmart we know this is a stressful and overwhelming time. Understanding unemployment (who qualifies, the benefits available, and how to apply) can be difficult to navigate.

We want to help. Which is why we’ve put together this lengthy resource to help inform you about unemployment and other COVID-19 related benefits you may be entitled to receive. Read this blog post to learn more about who qualifies for unemployment, what other benefits are available, how to access available benefits, and where to look for more specific information.

Who Qualifies?

As a result of COVID-19, President Trump signed the CARES Act (a $2 trillion relief package) in late March, that significantly expands unemployment benefits to people who were not previously eligible. Under the CARES Act, if your job has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic — meaning you are unable to work, furloughed, laid off, your hours have been significantly reduced, or are a part-time employee — you may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

You’re also eligible for benefits if, as a direct result of COVID-19, your circumstances find you unable or unavailable to work because:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and are seeking diagnosis.
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You are providing care for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • A child or other person in the household for whom you have primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed.
  • You cannot reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed.
  • You were scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or cannot reach your place of employment.
  • You had to quit your job as a direct result of the COVID-19.
  • Your place of employment is closed.
  • You meet other criteria established by the Secretary of Labor.

The bill created a new program called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program that allows self-employed people, contracted employees, and Gig Workers to be eligible for benefits. If COVID-19 is responsible for your job loss, furlough, significant reduction in hours, or is preventing you from finding work, you likely qualify for benefits.

Those who don’t qualify include: employees receiving paid leave, those able to work from home full-time, undocumented workers, or those without pay record. Even if you’re not sure if you qualify, it’s likely still worth applying, so that you give yourself the best chance to receive any applicable benefits.

To see specific qualifications for your state, please visit our COVID-19 Worker Benefits Center. You can browse for benefit information specific to your state by selecting your state from the drop-down menu.

What are unemployment benefits?

Now that you know if you qualify to receive unemployment benefits, what can you expect to get? In the US, benefits are $378 a week on average, according to the US Department of Labor data from end of the year 2019. Benefit amounts will differ by state and income. The new law contains the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which will expand the duration of benefits up to 39 weeks, through December 31, 2020, (an additional 13 weeks added to the standard unemployment benefit duration). Under the CARES Act, workers who receive unemployment benefits will receive an additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020 through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program.

Independent contractors, self-employed workers, and Gig Workers are now eligible for benefits through the PUA program. PUA payments will be calculated according to the rules of the state in which the individual worked. As of now, the Act allows PUA payments to cover periods of unemployment starting as early as January 27, 2020 and ending as late as December 31, 2020. Individuals who are approved for unemployment compensation through the PUA program will qualify to receive an additional $600 per week (through July 31, 2020) in FPUC.

How to Apply for COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits

Now that you understand who qualifies and the benefits available, let’s go through the process of applying for unemployment. We know applying for unemployment seems like a daunting task, but we’re here to provide you with as much information as we can, so that you know exactly what to expect.

First, should you become unemployed, you’ll want to contact your state’s unemployment office as soon as possible. In general, you should file in the state in which you worked. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live, or if you worked in multiple states, contact the state unemployment agency in the state where you now live for information about how to file your claim with other states. You can fill out an application over the phone or online. Due to long wait times amid the COVID-19 outbreak, we suggest starting with an online application first. Be sure to select the application applicable to you, whether that is regular unemployment, PUA, or extended benefits.

You’ll also want to make sure you have the proper documentation ready when you apply. According to an article published by Vox Media, and an article published by Market Watch, some essential information states will require, and you should have prepared for the application process includes:

  • Your name, birth date, Social Security number, and Driver’s license number (if applicable)
  • Your Bank account information (routing number and account number)
  • Your last employer’s information, including company name, supervisor’s name and contact information
  • The date you last worked and the reason you are no longer working
  • Your gross earnings in the last week you worked (starting Sunday and ending with your last day on the job)
  • You requested to provide information on previous employers you worked for in the past 18 months. (Employer name, address, dates of employment, gross wages earned, hours worked per week and hourly rate of pay, and the reason you are no longer working)
    • Keeping documentation about your previous income and wages is important. This information can be found on your W-2s, paystubs, or on invoices if you are a freelancer or independent contractor. If you have been using the Get Gigs app to work Gigs, we conveniently store all of this info in your Worker Wallet.

If you get stuck or have a question while filling out your application, we suggest first checking to see if your state’s website provides a list of FAQs. These will usually cover the most common questions like application issues, PIN numbers, and security questions. If you don’t see information about your specific problem, look for a contact phone number in your state that you can call.

Get extra help

Change in income can be hard to manage when bills are due. There is no need to worry, many banks, financial institutions, companies, and agencies have implemented policies and procedures to help customers through this time. Some lenders and companies will have information posted on their websites about the actions they are taking in response to COVID-19, but if they do not, be sure to ask.

If you have a bill you are concerned about paying, contact your lender ASAP and communicate your situation with them (how COVID-19 impacted your job, etc.) and ask about the options they are providing to customers. Outcomes will vary depending on the lender, but most are willing to help in any way they are able. Be sure to take notes if necessary in case you have to take additional steps, like cancel an automatic payment or fill out an application.

Additional programs, like food assistance, rent assistance, or medical assistance may be available in your state. Check out our COVID-19 Worker Benefits Center to find out what options are available in your area. Some states have opened and extended special enrollment periods for health insurance. If you’d like to see if you’re eligible to sign up for a qualified plan, you can click here to search plans in your state.

We are in this together

Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of unemployment, who qualifies, the benefits available, how to apply, and how to get extra help, you’re prepared! Remember, we encourage contacting your state’s unemployment office as soon as possible. To find your state’s unemployment information, click here. It’s worth applying even if you’re unsure if you qualify. You may be able to work part-time and still collect benefits — every state has different limitations. To find out more about your eligibility, the specific benefits available, and the unemployment application process in your state, visit our COVID-19 Worker Benefits Center. Here you will find specific information about the programs offered in your state.

We know this is a difficult and unprecedented time. If you’re not already using the Get Gigs app, you can create your free Worker profile to get instant notifications about new work opportunities in your area as they are posted. We hope the information above was helpful in getting you more acquainted with unemployment and additional benefits available related to COVID-19. We’re all doing our best to care for one another. Stay healthy and safe.

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