A giant pandemic relief package made significant — but temporary — changes to the way the unemployment insurance system works. These changes expand the kinds of workers who are eligible for unemployment, extend the amount of time people can receive benefits and increase the amount people can receive.
Who is eligible? The state programs that make up the unemployment system now cover far more people than usual, including self-employed people and part-time workers. Those who are unemployed, are partly unemployed or cannot work for a wide variety of coronavirus-related reasons will be more likely to receive benefits — and you don’t necessarily need to lose your job to qualify. For example, if you’re quarantined or have been furloughed — that is, you’re not being paid but expect to return to your job eventually — you may be eligible.
How much will someone get? States set many of their own rules, including for benefit amounts, which are generally calculated as a percentage of your income over the past year, up to a certain maximum. Some states are more generous than others, but unemployment typically replaces roughly 45 percent of your lost income.
Whatever your benefit amount, the CARES Act also provides a temporary increase of $600 weekly, but only through July 31.
How long will it last? Benefits could last nine months or more, through a combination of state and federal programs. But the details depend on your state.
Most states pay benefits for 26 weeks, though some offer less. After that, federal legislation extends benefits by another 13 weeks. (Here’s a helpful illustration that breaks down how the program works in New York State.)
In periods of high unemployment, your state may also offer its own extended benefit program. Extended benefits usually last for half the length of the state’s standard benefit period.
What else should I know? Being eligible for benefits doesn’t mean the process is easy.
Many states administering these benefits are relying on archaic systems, which have been overwhelmed by the influx of claims. That has left many people beyond frustrated because they were locked out, unable to submit applications or wondering if and when a check would ever arrive. If you’re still encountering difficulty, try contacting your elected state and federal representatives for help. Legal Aid is another good resource for lower-income households.
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