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Know Your Rights: Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19 (FAQs)

Authored By: Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (New Orleans office) LSC Funded


This information is current as of January 4, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly changing situation. Check back here periodically for updated information.


In addition to the information below, here are some great summaries of COVID-19 unemployment benefits and the process:


What changes have been made to unemployment insurance for the Coronavirus crisis? +

Added benefits are available to people on temporary leave without pay, laid off, or finding themselves without work through no fault of their own.


Some changes are currently in effect:

  • Normally, people do not get unemployment benefits for the first week they are out of work. During the COVID-19 crisis, you can get paid as soon as you are out of work.
  • No work registration or work search is required for now, but you still have to phone in or go online weekly to fill out the information about your current work status to keep getting benefits.
  • If your unemployment is due to COVID-19 you will not be disqualified because of the way that your job stopped (even if that would normally make you ineligible). For example:
    • If you have COVID-19 or symptoms, are awaiting test results, or are quarantined because of it;
    • Someone in your house has COVID-19 or you are caring for someone with it;
    • You are caring for a child or someone else who can’t attend school or work that closed due to COVID-19;
    • Your job ended or you cannot get to it because of the COVID-19 crisis;
    • You now have to work because your household’s breadwinner died of COVID-19;
    • They had to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;
    • Their place of employment is closed because of COVID-19 or you had to quit because of it.


In late December 2020, Congress passed an additional stimulus package. The federal government will add an extra $300 a week to unemployment checks. Under the new stimulus package, eligibility for benefits would be extended from:


  • 39 weeks (under the CARES Act) to 50 weeks for those under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is only two weeks short of a year… OR
  • 11 weeks (under the CARES Act) to 24 weeks for those under Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
  • BUT… all of this would end on March 14, 2021, unless it gets extended further.


To get this, claimants must meet the requirements weekly, by certifying with the agency weekly, looking for work, etc. You may need to refile to continue your eligibility, but depending on your facts and what the agency requires.


Will there be any new requirements for applicants? 

Yes. If you have been receiving benefits throughout this year, you may be asked to submit proof of wages you earned from employment. This requirement will be for both regular W-2 workers and self-employed workers. You will have 90 days to submit these records to the agency. It is not certain when this 90-day deadline would start, but you should be receiving some notice from the agency.


Failing to provide proof of wages should not be the only reason for your benefits to stop. Though it is important that you have these records ready in case you will need to provide them to avoid any delays.


New applicants who start filing on or after January 31 will also need to provide proof of their earnings, but will only have 21 days to provide this proof to the agency. There may be some exceptions to the 21-day deadline if there is good cause. Again failing to provide proof of wages should not be the only reason for benefits to stop, but it is important to have these records ready.


This new requirement will mostly apply to those receiving benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.


What happens after March 2021?

If you have not used all your benefits weeks by then, the new stimulus bill would allow for benefits to continue for an additional 4 weeks. This means that your benefits would continue until the week of April 5, 2021.


Again these additional 4 weeks are ONLY for those who do not use all their benefits by March 14, 2021. For example, if you are on your 36th week (if you are a pandemic unemployment assistance claimant) of receiving benefits on March 14th then you will be able to continue receiving benefits for 4 more weeks.


There is no information or plan yet for those who used all their benefits before then.

Who else will now be eligible for unemployment benefits? +

In addition to regular payroll workers, some workers who were ineligible for unemployment benefits will be covered. This includes self-employed workers, “independent contractors,” freelancers, workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long enough work history to get regular unemployment.


You might also be eligible if you still have a job, but you are not being paid either because your workplace has closed temporarily or because you have been told to stay home from work.


And some people who have not had jobs are now eligible if their home’s breadwinner died or their job ended because of COVID-19 before they started at it.

How do I file for unemployment benefits? +

You can apply for unemployment benefits online or by phone.

To apply online, go to the Louisiana Workforce Commission website

You can also try to file a claim by calling their claim center at 1-866-783-5567.

  • As of March 17th, their call center hours are 8 am to 7 pm. The lines are very busy. Expect to be on hold for a long time.
  • The website for applying is so busy it may crash while you are applying. Go back again and consider trying times when few people would be applying, like late at night or early, before business hours.


This video from the Louisiana Workforce Commission explains how to apply for unemployment benefits online. But it has not been updated with some of the new information above.

What do I do after applying? What happens next? +

Protect your rights:

  • Keep your records straight

    • You'll get many notices from the agency, ESPECIALLY if your claim involves more than one employer. The papers can get confusing. Keep all your papers in one place, or in an envelope or folder.

  • Make sure to file for your weekly certification
    • This video shows you how to file your weekly certification.
  • Read notices right away
    • Because the appeal time is so short, you can lose your rights if you don't act quickly (within the 15 days).


What happens next?


When you file, the agency looks at your claim and:


  • Sends a "Monetary Determination" Notice
    • Read this carefully. Mistakes are often made here. Make sure all your earnings and jobs for the time period are listed. If it's wrong, you have a year to appeal. But, it's best to appeal right away. Maybe you can show the agency your check stubs, tax returns, or W-2 forms. You may need a lawyer if you don't have written proof.
  • Sends each employer notice of your claim once it finds you eligible
    • And gives each employer the chance to file a "protest" on your claim.
  • Sends a “Qualifying” or “Disqualifying” notice
    • to you and each employer covered by your claim.

How long before I start getting benefits? +

There are likely to be delays because so many people are applying for benefits right now. We cannot predict how soon you will actually receive the money. The state also needs to update some of its systems, because of the recent changes. The Louisiana Workforce Commission recommends using their internet application for faster service. It does crash as discussed above.


If you are denied or get a finding that you are ineligible, or if a former employer files an objection to your unemployment benefits, you may be able to get free legal help.

Will I have to pay taxes on my unemployment benefits? +

Unemployment benefits are taxable. Especially because of the $600 a month increase, it is a good idea to have federal and state income taxes withheld on these payments, so you do not owe thousands of dollars when next year’s income taxes.

Will unemployment benefits stop us from getting Medicaid or SNAP? +

The $600 per week increase in unemployment does not count against Medicaid, CHIP, or SSI. But the rest of your unemployment check does. It will not usually make you ineligible for Medicaid, but for some households on SSI, or over age 65, or with other income, it will. Unemployment does count against SNAP (food stamps), and most other programs that have consider your income to decide if you’re eligible.

I’m an undocumented worker. Do I qualify for unemployment benefits? +

Workers must be authorized to work to receive unemployment benefits. This means that undocumented workers are not eligible.

I have an to option to work from home or work remotely. Can I get unemployment benefits instead? +

If you can be paid to work from home or remotely, you are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

My employer reduced my hours, but I still have a job. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits? +

Yes, if your wages are less than the amount of unemployment compensation you are eligible for (before the extra $600 is added).

I was over-paid unemployment benefits in the past. Does that affect my eligibility now? +

The rules for past overpayments of unemployment have not been changed. If you owe money due to past overpayment of unemployment benefits, any new unemployment benefits will automatically go to repay the debt. You should still apply for unemployment benefits now, because the sooner you become eligible, the sooner your debt will be paid and the sooner you will start receiving payments.


For more information about Unemployment Compensation overpayments, visit: https://louisianalawhelp.org/resource/overpaid-unemployment-compensation-benefits-1?ref=JFO0O

My application was denied. Or, I was found ineligible for unemployment compensation. Or, I was found eligible for unemployment compensation but then one of my former employers appealed. What do I do? +

If the notice is against you (“Disqualifying”), appeal right away and keep on with weekly reporting. If the notice is in your favor (“Qualifying”), you should get your weekly benefits right away, plus any past-due benefits, and your employer can appeal. Keep on with weekly reporting.


If any of these happen to you, you can apply for free legal help.

How can I get legal help? +

Acadiana Legal Service Corporation and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services provide free legal assistance to those that qualify - typically at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty GuidelinesPlease do not visit legal service providers in person during this time. Due to the virus, all organizations are encouraging people to contact them over the telephone, or by applying for services online.


SLLS has a COVID-19 Hotline you can access by calling 844-244-7871.


If you don't qualify for free legal services, you may qualify for the Modest Means Directory. You may also be able to submit a question and get legal advice online through the Louisiana Free Legal Answers program.


If your income is still too high for the Modest Means Directory or Louisiana Free Legal Answers, you'll need to find a private attorney through the Louisiana State Bar Association. 


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