unemployment benefits

Unemployment Benefits: Are You Eligible Under the CARES Act?

COVID-19 has thrown many people into an economic tailspin. From small businesses to individuals, many are reeling from the impact this public health crisis is having on everyone’s current and future financial plans

In March, Congress passed three bills to help soften the blow of the outbreak’s effect on the economy, and there are even rumblings that a fourth bill could be on the horizon. 

However, the CARES Act, which is the third bill, is set to have the most immediate impact on individuals. The bill provides a variety of provisions, and one is expanding the role of unemployment insurance. 

So, do you know if you are eligible? Here are the criteria individuals must meet to be able to access the unemployment insurance outlined in the act. 

Here is a recap of the benefits provided by the unemployment insurance provisions under the CARES Act: 

  • Nationwide, the average state benefit for unemployment compensation is around $380 a week. The CARES Act provides an additional $600 in weekly benefits on top of what people get from their state government. This $600 boost is called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and lasts until July 31, 2020.
  • The CARES Act also extends by 13 weeks the amount of time that jobless individuals can receive unemployment benefits. Currently most states offer unemployment for 26 weeks. With the added 13 weeks, unemployment can last for a maximum of 39 weeks, including for those who had already exhausted benefits received by their state. 

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Who is eligible? 

Unemployment compensation is most commonly provided to those who have been laid off, individuals who are furloughed, and those who have had their work hours reduced or their pay cut. But others qualify too. 

If you are contemplating filing a claim for unemployment benefits, here are the circumstances that can make you eligible for unemployment compensation. 

  • Having a COVID-19 Diagnosis 
    • Individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing related symptoms. (In these cases, you should not be working and should be isolated).
    • If an individual has a family member diagnosed with COVID-19 or has to be the caretaker for someone in their house who is, this person is also eligible for unemployment benefits. 
  •  Experiencing Adverse School and Quarantine Circumstances 
    • An individual who has to take care of a person who is missing school due to COVID-19.
    • Professionals advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine or those who are adversely impacted by an imposed quarantine at their workplace are eligible. 
  • Loss of Breadwinner or Direct Employment Situations  
    • Anyone who was hired to a new position, but cannot work there, or reach the place of employment due to the outbreak. 
    • Individuals who have experienced the death of a breadwinner or a loss of a significant source of support from a head of household because of COVID-19 can receive unemployment insurance. 
    • A person who has to quit their job due to circumstances brought on by COVID-19, or someone who cannot work because their job stopped operating as a result of the outbreak is also eligible. 

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment benefits are now available to those who would not traditionally be eligible for unemployment insurance from their state. This list of individuals includes those who are self-employed, people who have a limited work history, independent contractors, individuals who get 1099s, as well as those who have exhausted their rights to state funds.

While these are the main parameters for eligibility, another important point is the “actively seeking employment” requirement that typically comes with unemployment. Usually, states want you to confirm and document that you are out there looking for work. 

But given the widespread stay-at-home orders throughout the U.S., and the fact that many business locations are shut down, the “actively seeking employment” rule is mostly being waived and states are expected to offer flexibility regarding this rule if the current outbreak hinders someone’s ability to physically go out to find work. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you have lost your job due to COVID-19 or this outbreak impacts your current income situation, be sure to reach out to your state’s labor department (i.e. unemployment office) to put in a claim. 

You can get the contact information for your state unemployment office in this list showing 2020 State Maximum Unemployment Benefits With State Websites and Phone Numbers.

It is highly likely that the unemployment office in your state will be seeing a large volume of applications, and it might take them a while to fulfill them all. So start this process as soon as possible. In most states, you’ll be able to submit your unemployment claim online — but the process may be slowed by the volume of people using the Internet to seek unemployment.

For more information about all the provisions mentioned within the CARES Act, and how they impact you, be sure to check out COVID-19 and Coronavirus Cash: 7 Ways to Get Fast Money and Economic Relief

Lastly, keep an eye on this site for more eligibility articles as well as FAQs about how these moves by Congress impact you, your family, and your personal finance goals. 

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