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How To Get Every Unemployment Benefit You’re Entitled To Right Now

Dayana Yochim  |  May 1, 2020

New rules are much more generous. But the unemployment benefit application process is a lot more onerous. Here’s how to max out what you get.

Filing for unemployment has become the hottest full-time job in America. More than 30 million people have filed for benefits since mid-March — and that’s only counting the ones whose applications were processed. 

A new survey conducted by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) calculated that for every 10 successful unemployment applicants, an additional 3.7 tried to apply but were unable to get their application through, and another two found the process too onerous and didn’t even try to apply. That translates to as many as 14 million newly jobless who aren’t getting the financial benefits they’re entitled to.

Even after successfully submitting an unemployment claim, the lag time in processing applications is excruciating.

Technical glitches, long waiting periods and confusion are the norm, as many state unemployment agencies are struggling with the deluge of unemployment claims and outdated systems. Even after successfully submitting a claim, the lag time in processing applications is excruciating. An Associated Press analysis of Department of Labor data found that roughly seven out of eight people who filed claims in mid-March to early April are backlogged. In New York 30% of claims have yet to be processed; two thirds of applicants in California and Texas are also waiting in bureaucratic purgatory. 

As frustrating as it is, don’t give up — especially if you previously were not eligible to get unemployment benefits — or you could be leaving thousands of dollars on the table.

1. Check the new unemployment eligibility rules

The CARES Act included $1 billion for states to expand their unemployment benefits coverage through Dec. 31, 2020. There’s also a provision that pads weekly payouts with supplemental cash through July 31, 2020. Note that these enhancements are on top of the standard unemployment benefits offered in your state. (Each state has its own calculations to determine benefits and sets minimums and maximums.) 

Head’s up, self-employed workers, contractors, part-timers, and anyone who was disqualified under previous assistance rules: You are now eligible to receive unemployment coverage! So is anyone who can no longer work because they had to quit their job because of the coronavirus (e.g. you’re a caregiver for someone who is sick, or have to care for children who are home from school). Here are other key changes:  

2. File for unemployment benefits ASAP 

Use the Department of Labor’s database to find out how to apply for unemployment benefits in your state. The one-week waiting period has been lifted. That means one additional week of unemployment pay if you apply for coverage as soon as you are laid off, furloughed or unable to work for any pandemic-related reason. And in this economy, every extra dollar comes in handy.

Another reason to waste no time applying: The $600 weekly federal subsidy kicks in from the date you lose your job (applied retroactively to April 5) and only lasts until July 31. It is not based on a sliding scale. So even if you only qualify for $50 a week in state unemployment, you’ll get the full $600 a week. (It is taxable income, by the way.) You may also be eligible for the subsidy even if your state benefits have expired.

3. Re-apply if you have to 

You may have to re-apply for unemployment insurance to get the full amount of financial support you’re entitled to receive. This is especially true if you exhausted your current benefits before extended coverage and subsidized unemployment insurance payments started. 

Do-overs may also be necessary if your state’s unemployment division didn’t have a smooth rollout of the new rules. In Florida, for example, contractors and self-employed workers who were initially denied unemployment benefits or applied before April 4 were just told that they need to re-submit their unemployment application. 

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