What You Need to Know About Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits

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The federal government has stepped in to help with unemployment benefits as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Image Credit: Clark.com

If you’ve lost your job as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, help is on the way in the form of increased unemployment benefits.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which infuses more than $2.2 trillion from the United States government in the economy, was signed into law on March 27, 2020.

Inside that legislation are two important financial relief actions for anyone who is without a job or unable to work as a result of this national emergency.

The first, which applies to the employed and unemployed alike, is a one-time stimulus paycheck of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.

The other, which we will cover in this article, is a significant boost to the money already available through state-sponsored unemployment programs.

What You Need to Know About Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits

If you are looking for guidance on filing for unemployment, Team Clark recently consulted a long-time unemployment specialist to develop the 9 Things to Know Before You Apply for Unemployment.

Here are some of the commonly asked questions you may have about the unemployment benefits specifically related to coronavirus legislation:

Who Qualifies for the Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits?

There are two different groups of people who qualify for the emergency unemployment benefits.

First, it applies to anyone who qualifies for or is already enrolled in a state unemployment program.

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To qualify for state unemployment, you are typically required to have been laid off due to no fault of your own. This generally excludes workers who quit or are fired.

Second, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program portion of the CARES Act also temporarily grants eligibility for these unemployment benefits to some of the following, per CNBC:

  • Self-employed individuals
  • Independent contractors
  • Gig economy workers
  • Some part-time employees
  • Some furloughed employees
  • New employees who were subsequently let go

These workers who would not qualify for unemployment in normal circumstances must be able to prove they are unable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus emergency in order to be eligible.

Important: You must first apply for and be approved for unemployment benefits through your state in order to be eligible for the federal aid.

Who Do I Contact to Receive These Emergency Benefits?

Even though the money is coming from the federal government, you will need to contact your local unemployment office that is managed by your state’s department of labor.

Team Clark has compiled the contact information for each state here.

According to the United States Department of Labor: “Each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program, but all states follow the same guidelines established by federal law.”

You will not be eligible to receive the federal money until approved by your local state, so don’t delay the process if you can help it.

How Much Money Will the Federal Government Provide?

The emergency unemployment benefit from the federal government is a $600 weekly stipend to be paid for up to four months.

This money is in addition to any state-sponsored benefits for which you may qualify. State benefits vary based on your location, but typically involves compensation based on a percentage of your former salary.

How Long Will the Unemployment Benefits Last?

Qualified unemployment recipients are eligible to receive the $600 weekly stipend from the federal government for up to four months through July 31, 2020.

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As for your state benefits, that will depend on several factors.

Most states pay traditional unemployment benefits for approximately 26 weeks. That term can be extended another 13 weeks as a part of the Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits program through the U.S. Department of Labor.

There are provisions that could extend that as much as 20 weeks after that initial 13-week extension based on unemployment statistics. Check with your individual state for clarification on this.

When Will the Unemployment Benefits Start?

The short answer is: As soon as possible, but it really depends on your individual state.

Standard guidelines for receiving your unemployment checks allow for 2-3 weeks between successful application and the first check arrival, but that may be impacted by both the urgency to get this money in the hands of individuals and the high volume of applicants.

Some states also require a one-week waiting period after a successful application for unemployment.

According to Forbes, the CARES Act incentivizes states to get these check out quickly by offering to pay for the first week of benefits for new applicants if the states waive a waiting period.

Can I Receive the Unemployment Payments if I’m a Freelancer or Gig Economy Worker?

Yes. In an unprecedented move that was geared toward putting the money in the hands of as many American workers in need as possible, the government will be taking unemployment applications from 1099 workers.

You must be able to prove that the coronavirus emergency is preventing you from gainful employment through these alternative work arrangements.

According to NBC News, you’ll also be eligible for half the average unemployment benefit in your state.

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This is a big change from most state-sponsored unemployment benefits, which typically require that you have been laid off from full-time employment to receive benefits. And as a result, there are some states that are sending out rejection letters.

“They’ve never provided unemployment insurance to people who are self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers. The software is written to automatically reject you. So what a number of states are doing is telling you that after you are rejected you just re-apply. It’s an odd, odd process,” money expert Clark Howard said.

Do Work-From-Home Employees Qualify for This Benefit?

No. If you still have a job, the physical location does not change your status in regards to eligibility for this emergency relief.

Many employers have closed traditional offices and opted to ask employees to work from home while the danger of spreading COVID-19 remains high, but these workers are still gainfully employed.

Am I Going to Be Required to Pay This Money Back?

No, the government will not require a payback on money distributed from the CARES Act for the purpose of emergency unemployment benefits.

You may also be wondering if you have to pay back money if your regular job typically pays less than the $600 stipend. The answer is still no. The money is yours to keep and spend as you see fit.

Will I Have to Pay Taxes on Unemployment Benefits?

Yes. This is considered taxable income that would need to be filed with your 2020 taxes.

Check with your local unemployment office to see if it is possible to have federal and/or state withholdings taken out of your unemployment check if you’re worried about potentially owing money.

Have More Questions? Some Resources to Help:

You can get the latest information on coronavirus unemployment measures from the U.S. Department of Labor.

USA.gov also has unemployment resources. Specific questions are best answered at the local unemployment office level. You can find the contact information for your state here.

More Coronavirus Advice From Clark.com:

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