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Know Your Rights- Unemployment Benefits during COVID-19

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

About COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits

 

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

On March 11, 2021, the President signed the American Rescue Plan Act. This Act has extended the COVID-19 unemployment programs including the $300 added weekly to most unemployment checks. Most rules regarding these plans remain the same, but here is a quick outline of changes.

In addition to the information below, here is a version of the COVID-19 unemployment benefits and the process:

To learn more about unemployment benefits generally click here

Questions About Unemployment Benefits during COVID-19

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.

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, there are requirements for applicants: 

  • 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.

Has Pandemic Unemployment Assistance been extended? +

Yes. This program was enacted on March 27, 2020. The program was extended in March 2021 and remains in effect.

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 the Louisiana Workforce Commission's claim center at 1-866-783-5567. 

  • The phone line system is usually available from Monday to Friday at 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You will need to call on your designated day:

If your Social Security Number ends with 0000-2499, you are to call on Mondays.

If your Social Security Number ends with 2500-4999, you are to call on Tuesdays.

If your Social Security Number ends with 5000-7499, you are to call on Wednesdays.

If your Social Security Number ends with 7500-9999, you are to call on Thursdays.

Anyone can call on Fridays

 

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.

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 after a certain amount. It is a good idea to have federal and state income taxes withheld on these payments, so you do not end up having to pay possible money back on your income taxes. 

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

The $300 in weekly benefits 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 $300 is added).

I was overpaid 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.

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? +

What if I never filed for Unemployment Compensation until recently, but have been unemployed due to COVID-19 before March 13, 2021. Can I receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits for earlier weeks? +

If you are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, you may only receive back payments as far as December 1, 2020 if you have just filed for this program.

What if I exhausted my Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Benefits before March 13, 2021? +

  • If you met the requirements but ran out of weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, you will be able to claim additional weeks now. But you will not be able to receive any back payments for weeks before March 20, 2021.
  • But if you were unemployed due to a recognized Covid-19 related reason for weeks before March 20, 2021 you may be able to qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance as discussed above above. The agency may switch you to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, but only for these exhausted weeks.

What is a COVID-19 related reason? +

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking medical diagnosis;
  • member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • You are providing care for a family member or a member of your household who has COVID-19;
  • A child or other person in the household for whom you are responsible for is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 and this makes you unable to work;
  • You are unable to reach your workplace because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • You are unable to reach your workplace because you have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
  • You were scheduled to begin employment and do not have a job or are unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19;
  • You have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19, and/or
  • Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • If you refuse to return to work that is unsafe due to COVID-19.
  • If you refuse to accept a job offer or new work that is unsafe due to COVID-19
  • If you provide services or work for educational institutions or educational agencies, but do not have a contract or a guaranteed return date with the educational employer.
  • If you are currently employed, but:
    • Your hours at work have been reduced, OR
    • You are temporarily laid off from your job, OR
    • You are permanently laid off from your job.

Other reasons might be recognized depending on your situation. It is important to remember that the unemployment agency should review each claim on an individual basis.

What types of unemployed individuals may now qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance? +

  • If you refuse to return to work that is unsafe.
  • If you refuse to accept a job offer or new work that is unsafe.
  • If you provide services or work for educational institutions or educational agencies, but do not have a contract or a guaranteed expected return date with the educational employer.
  • If you are currently employed, but:
    • Your hours at work have been reduced, OR
    • You are temporarily laid off from your job, OR
    • You are permanently laid off from your job.

What are some examples of refusing to return to work that is unsafe? +

If your workplace’s conditions do not meet the local, state, or national COVID-19 health and safety standards.

  • For Example:
    • Employees and Customers were not wearing masks.
      • If certain necessary Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) was not provided at work. Examples:
        • Safe disinfectant products to clean highly touched surfaces.
        • Glass/ Plastic shields for customer services booths/counters.
        • Social distancing was not enforced.
    • If you have a high risk health condition and it would not be safe to continue in your workplace because of the risk of getting COVID-19.
      • For Example:
        • Your workplace has a lot of people coming in and out who could expose you to COVID-19.
      • If you are living with a high risk individual.
        • For Example:
          • Living with a person above the age of 50 years old or with a health condition that puts them at risk.

What are some examples of refusing to accept a job offer or new work that is unsafe? +

The examples are like those above.

What are some examples of services or work for educational institutions or educational agencies, that do not have a contract or a guaranteed expected return date with the educational employer? +

For example:

  • A temporary substitute teacher who is hired on-call to a school or different schools.
  • A school bus driver who is called on an as needed daily, monthly, or yearly basis.
  • A school cafeteria worker who works for an independent company on an as needed daily, monthly, or yearly basis.

 

What if I meet one of the reasons listed above, but was denied due to that reason?

  • These provisions apply even to your old claim. You may be able to receive back payments of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, if you applied before and were denied.
  • The agency should be reaching out to individuals who were denied for the reasons listed above. But it may not reach you quickly. You may want to call the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s phone number 1-866-783-5567.
  • The phone line system is usually available from Monday to Friday at 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You will need to call on your designated day:
    • If your Social Security Number ends with 0000-2499, you are to call on Mondays.
    • If your Social Security Number ends with 2500-4999, you are to call on Tuesdays.
    • If your Social Security Number ends with 5000-7499, you are to call on Wednesdays.
    • If your Social Security Number ends with 7500-9999, you are to call on Thursdays.

Anyone can call on Fridays

It is always good to check the HIRE website to see if there are any extended call-in times outside normal business hours or days.

What's new in pandemic unemployment assistance? March 2021: slls.org

What's new in pandemic unemployment assistance? February 2021: slls.org

Last Review and Update: Mar 18, 2021