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Filing for Unemployment During the Coronavirus Crisis

Although the coronavirus has created unprecedented jobless claims, more people affected by virus-related layoffs are eligible for benefits.

Malcolm Hong Apr 30, 2020

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in the United States, unemployment claims have increased to record levels. The Department of Labor reported that more than 30 million jobs were lost in six weeks.    

If you’re among the growing number of people who need to navigate the unemployment system, know that it’s OK to seek help during these unprecedent times. The unemployment system was designed to buffer Americans during a crisis like this.  
 
Because of the high volume of claims being submitted, it’s critical to understand the filing process and know what’s changed because of the coronavirus.

Here are four important steps to take if you’re filing for unemployment.

Unemployment filing tip #1: Leverage the expanded assistance programs created by the CARES Act

As part of the CARES Act, $600 will be added to each weekly unemployment check. Additionally, this legislation created the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to support freelancers, gig economy workers or independent contractors who were previously ineligible for unemployment insurance.

These programs will provide increased assistance until July 31, with benefits being paid out retroactively from the time workers were laid off. Additionally, they add up to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to what your state provides, to a maximum of 39 weeks.

In many states, including Idaho and Utah, there are restrictions on applying for these benefits that may include first exhausting other forms of unemployment insurance. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly complete the filing requirements below. 

Unemployment filing tip #2: Confirm you meet the eligibility requirements to file for unemployment

The Utah Department of Workforce Services and the Idaho Department of Labor manage unemployment benefits and evaluate applications on a case-by-case basis.

Applicants must meet the following three eligibility requirements to receive unemployment benefits:

  • You must have earned at least a minimum amount in wages before you were unemployed. Officials will review your recent work history and earnings over a one-year “base period” to determine your eligibility for unemployment.  
  • You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Utah and Idaho law. In order to meet this requirement, it’s important to be aware of the most common circumstances that may qualify or disqualify you.
  • You must be able and available to work, and you must be actively seeking employment. If you’re offered a suitable position, you must accept it. In Idaho, a job is considered suitable if it pays the prevailing wage for that industry in your area. In Utah, a suitable position is dependent on factors that include pay, commute, working conditions, required skills and training and how similar the job is to your former employment. If a former employer presents you with a job offer, you must accept it or you will likely lose your unemployment insurance benefits. The Utah Department of Workforce Services released more details here.         

Unemployment filing tip #3: File for unemployment through your state’s online process

Because officials are processing a high volume of unemployment claims, they strongly recommend filing online through the Idaho Department of Labor or the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Because of the increased volume of calls and questions, officials have encouraged people to file and not wait to first speak with someone.

Before you file online, gather the following information:

  • Driver’s License
  • Social Security Number
  • Work history back to October 2018
  • Employer’s name as recorded on your pay stub
  • Bank or credit union account number for direct deposit of weekly benefits

After you complete this process, be patient as your claim is reviewed. Because of the high volume of claims, it could take anywhere from 21-30 days to process. If your unemployment claim is denied, learn more about how to file an appeal in Utah or Idaho.

Unemployment filing tip #4: Anticipate how much you can expect to receive in benefits and budget accordingly

If you’ve met the requirements for unemployment benefits, your weekly benefit will be 1/26 of your wages in the highest paid quarter of the base period minus $5. You may receive benefits for a minimum of 10 weeks and a maximum of 26 weeks — although the maximum has been extended to 39 weeks through the end of 2020 under the CARES Act.

Funds are typically received through direct deposit. Once you return to full employment, stop filing your weekly claim and the system will automatically close it.

Although filing for unemployment can take time to process, it’s helpful that policymakers have provided extended benefits to those whose employment have been impacted by COVID-19. People who can successfully leverage these benefits will be better positioned to weather the economic storm. 

Content is offered for informational purposes only and should not be construed as tax, legal, financial or business advice. Please contact a professional about your specific needs and advice.

Malcolm Hong is Public Relations officer for Idaho for Zions Bank.

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