By Sarah Chaney
Congress is working to pass a roughly $2 trillion stimulus bill that would expand the amount and duration of unemployment benefits available to laid-off workers. It would also broaden the pool of people who are eligible to receive benefits during the new coronavirus pandemic.
We answer questions below on how to apply for unemployment benefits and how the legislation, once it becomes law, would change who is eligible.
Who is eligible for unemployment insurance?
Americans generally are eligible for benefits if they are laid off from their jobs. Specifics vary by states, which administer unemployment insurance programs.
Several states have already adjusted eligibility requirements due to the coronavirus. For instance, states expanded eligibility to include workers who don't have access to paid leave or who may not meet any requirement of being available to work, such as those who are quarantined.
The stimulus bill would further expand eligibility to include people who are not typically eligible for benefits, including self-employed people, those seeking part-time employment and independent contractors.
People who are diagnosed with coronavirus, have a household member with coronavirus or are unable to go to work due to quarantines would also be eligible, as would individuals who had to quit their jobs or are laid off due to the coronavirus.
Who is not eligible?
Those who are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits also wouldn't be able receive unemployment insurance, according to the stimulus bill.
How do I apply?
People can apply for unemployment insurance benefits on their state's website or over the phone. States are recommending people apply for benefits online given the high volume of calls; some are instructing applicants to stagger filings by day based on their last names.
Once an application is submitted, state labor department personnel process and approve applications. Weekly unemployment payments then arrive through a mailed debit card or direct deposit.
How much will my unemployment check be?
Unemployment benefits vary by state. The new stimulus bill would increase unemployment assistance in every state by $600 a week for up to four months. In New York state, for example, the state's maximum weekly benefit check is about $500. That would increase to $1,100 a week if the new legislation passes.
Extended use of unemployment benefits would put a lot more money in people's pockets than the stimulus bill's one-time checks of up to $1,200.
How long does it take to get benefits?
It typically takes two to three weeks for states to process claims. Many unemployment insurance offices are seeing unprecedented volume, which is delaying the process.
Several states have waived a routine one-week waiting period to receive benefits. That means Americans will be paid as soon as they become unemployed rather than having their first week of unemployment be unpaid. It doesn't, however, necessarily mean workers will receive checks a week earlier.
Here's an example of what the waived waiting period looks like: If a person was laid off and applied for benefits March 23, they could receive their first unemployment check April 10, under both current and former state rules. With a waived waiting period, though, they would be entitled to an unemployment check for the week of March 23. Under the old rules, they wouldn't.
How long do the benefits last?
The duration of benefits varies by state, with the standard time to receive benefits in many states totaling 26 weeks. Some state offer 12 weeks. The stimulus bill would lengthen benefits by an additional 13 weeks across states.
Write to Sarah Chaney at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 26, 2020 17:16 ET (21:16 GMT)
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