In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, you must meet a few requirements. It's important to note that each state has its own eligibility requirements.
To qualify, you must be laid off through no fault of your own. This will be true for most workers affected by coronavirus-related layoffs and reductions in work. If you are fired or you quit voluntarily, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Typically, you must be available to work and actively seeking employment to qualify for unemployment insurance. Additionally, you must meet certain wage and work requirements to qualify, which can vary by state.
Self-employed workers, part-time workers, and independent contractors typically aren't eligible for unemployment benefits, but can now qualify under the federal government's coronavirus relief bill.
Parents, guardians, and caregivers who must stop work to care for children whose schools and daycares have closed, or loved ones whose care facilities have shut down, are eligible for benefits under the relief package.
Those who must leave work to care for a loved one who's sick with COVID-19 are eligible for benefits, as are those who cannot work because they're sick with the virus themselves. Anyone ordered to self-quarantine is eligible for benefits.
If the breadwinner in your household died from COVID-19, you are also eligible for unemployment benefits.
Below are the steps you can take to file an unemployment claim.
Where we're at now
Each state has its own unemployment program. Given the onset of COVID-19, the federal government has expanded unemployment insurance to cover more people through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and its broad relief package.
According to CareerOneStop.org, you qualify if:
- An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
- An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
- An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member
So if you've been laid off from your restaurant or bartending job or have stopped working to mitigate risk or care for another, you may qualify for unemployment.
Step 1: Gather information and documentation
If you've lost your job, you want to apply for unemployment insurance right away. To streamline the process, gather your information and documentation ahead of time. You will need to provide information such as:
- Full name
- Birth date
- Social Security Number
- Employment history for 18 months
- Names and addresses for employers for the past 18 months
- Previous income
- Why job ended
- Bank account info to receive benefits
You will want to have your driver's license, Social Security card, and any pay stubs or W-2s handy. If you have any documentation related to your layoff, have that nearby as well.
Step 2: Go to CareerOneStop.org and find your specific state info
Step 3: Select a state
Underneath "Find Employment Benefits" and Location, see the drop-down menu for Select a State and choose your state and then press search or just click on your state on the map.
When you do that, you'll be directed to your state-specific unemployment insurance program where you can file for unemployment.
Step 4: Choose how you want to file a claim
There are three different ways you can file an unemployment claim.
Choose how you want to file a claim. If filing online or by phone (which you'll want to do now while we're all social distancing) you can find specific instructions.
Step 5: Register online
If you're applying online, which is the easiest way to apply for unemployment insurance benefits, you will likely need to register online and create an account. Each state has its own set of procedures. For example, residents in California will need to register for a UI Benefits Program Online account in order to file a claim. Your state may have something similar with a different name.
Creating an account will require your personal information, including full name, email address, and password, and you'll need to accept the terms and conditions.
Step 6: File a claim
After registering for an online account, you will want to click "File new claim." You should see instructions on filing a claim. You will be asked for your personal information, employment history for the last 18 months, wages, and the last day of work to determine your eligibility.
You may be asked questions such as, have you worked in another state or applied for unemployment insurance benefits recently. You will also likely need to provide your driver's license info and confirm your citizenship status. Answer all of the questions and fill out each section.
Step 7: Submit a claim
Once you've filled out the entire application, you can submit your unemployment insurance claim to determine your eligibility. You should receive a confirmation and you'll be mailed information on your claim.
Step 8: Get approved
Once you've been approved, it can take two to three weeks to get your first unemployment check. You may be able to get the funds through direct deposit. You may receive unemployment assistance for up to 39 weeks per the new coronavirus-related guidelines.
How much you get for unemployment assistance can vary based on your income and employment situation. You will have to report your unemployment wages on your tax return.
Currently, many states are dealing with an onslaught of unemployment applications, so wait times might be increased and payments might be delayed.
Step 9: Report every 2 weeks
If approved for unemployment insurance, you will need to report every two weeks to certify your benefits. You will need to report any wages to see if you still qualify for your next unemployment check. If you have any questions or need any assistance, you can contact the Department of Labor.
The expanded unemployment provisions provided by the coronavirus relief bill are available to workers who were newly eligible for benefits beginning January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020.
Editors' note: This article has been updated to include information on expanded unemployment benefits provided by the federal government's coronavirus relief bill.