Further to the economic turmoil arising from the COVID-19 crisis, millions of Americans are finding themselves in dire straits in Massachusetts. As of the week ending March 28, a record 6.6 million workers had filed their first week of unemployment benefits, suggesting the unemployment numbers seen during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 will soon be surpassed. In one of the first pieces of good news of the past few weeks, the government has introduced a set of measures designed to counter some of the crippling effects of layoffs, business closures and reduced hours. Introduced on March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will inject almost $2 trillion into the economy, providing a lifeline to those hardest hit. As outlined by the National Employment Law Project the act’s most salient points for the suddenly unemployed include:
- A $1,200 tax rebate available to all taxpayers. Those with dependents may be eligible for a further $500 per dependent.
- A supplementary $600 per week payment on top of state unemployment benefits until the end of July.
- The usual 7 day waiting period for new unemployment applicants will be waived.
- An additional 13 weeks of paid benefits on top of what the state allows until the end of July.
- An expansion of the eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits.
Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?
Under the newly introduced Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (a provision of the CARES act) even those who would not normally be able to claim unemployment benefits may now qualify. If you fall into any of the following categories, you might be eligible for support.
- You are sick with COVID-19, or in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19.
- You are caring for someone with COVID-19, or who is in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19.
- You are unable to work because your employer shut operations, either permanently or temporarily.
- Your hours have been reduced because of COVID-19.
- You are unable to work because of public transportation closures, and do not have the option to work off-site.
- You are unable to work because of school closures.
- You are self-employed, a freelancer, or a gig worker whose income has suffered as a result of COVID-19.
In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, your previous earnings will need to meet minimum income requirements. This equates to at least $5,100 during the last 4 completed calendar quarters, and 30 times your weekly benefit amount.
How Do I Apply for Unemployment in Massachusetts?
The first step in filing your claim for unemployment with the DUA is to gather all the required documentation and information relating to the application procedure. This includes:
- Your Social Security Number.
- Your Alien Registration Number if you are not a US citizen.
- Your personal information (full name, date of birth, home address, phone number, and email address).
- Your union name and local number, if applicable.
- Your employment history for the past 15 months. This should include the name, address, and telephone number of each employer, your job title, your first and last working days with that employer, and your reason for leaving the job.
- The names, dates of birth and social security numbers for any dependents.
- Confirmation of whether you have made a claim for unemployment, either in Massachusetts or another state, in the past 12 months.
- Severance Information, if applicable
- Military Form DD-214 (if you have completed military service within the past 18 months).
- Form SF-8 or SF-50 (if you were a federal employee).
Once you’ve gathered the necessary info, you can file your claim in one of two ways:
- Online: Create an account on the UI Online Portal. The system will then prompt you through the application process.
- By Phone: Call the Teleclaim Centre between 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday on one of the following numbers, depending on your area code. (877) 626-6800 from area codes 351, 413, 508, 774, and 978; (617) 626-6800 from any other area code
Once you’ve filed your initial claim, you will need to verify your claim weekly for the duration of your unemployment. The first claim should fall the first week after you file your initial claim, even if a decision on your application is still pending.
When Will I Hear Back?
As File Unemployment notes, the general timescale for the DUA to confirm if your application has been successful is 3 weeks. If the DUA declines your application, they’ll send you a written Notice of Disqualification. If you wish to appeal the decision, you must follow the process outlined in the notice, and submit the appeal within 10 days of its mailing date. Make sure to continue verifying your claim weekly while the appeal is ongoing.
How Much Will I Get?
If your claim is approved, you will be eligible for around 50% of your weekly income, up to a capped maximum of $823 per week. For a good indication of what you’ll get, the DUA provides a handy online calculator on its website. Once you’ve entered your income period for the base period, the calculator will return an estimation of what you’ll receive (just bear in mind that the estimation is exactly that – your actual entitlement may be different).
In addition to the state benefits, you’ll also be eligible to receive a supplementary $600 per week payment as part of the provisions of the CARES Act. If you filed your claim prior to the introduction of the act, you don’t need to resubmit your claim in order to benefit: the DUA will review and make any due payments separately and retroactively to your usual benefits payment.
How Will I Receive Payment?
You can elect to be paid in one of two ways:
- By direct deposit into your bank account. If you wish to be paid in this way, you’ll need to provide your bank name, account number, and routing number.
- By debit card.
How Long Can I Claim?
Under normal circumstances, unemployment benefits are available for a maximum of 30 weeks (26 in periods of low unemployment) in Massachusetts. However, under the provision of the CARES act, you will now be able to claim up to 39 weeks in total.