The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just crushing the healthcare system: its devasting effect on the economy is already starting to be felt. If the ripples have already reached you, don’t panic. Losing your job or having your income reduced can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you have a family to support. But before you start dipping into your savings, it’s worth investing a bit of time into finding out exactly what your entitlements are.
Given the unprecedented situation, certain changes have been made to the criteria for claiming unemployment benefits, with the result that even those who wouldn’t normally qualify might in fact be eligible for support. As MSN reports, the government has sunk more than $2 trillion into expanding unemployment insurance benefits and making loans available to struggling small businesses, a vital step in mitigating some of the economy dampening effects of the current situation.
While there have been some teething problems in keeping up with the extraordinary demand (to put you in the picture, during the week of March 15 alone, the department received 76,500 application, up 4,900 on the week before), the Oregon Employment Department is doing as much as possible to keep applicants informed of the new requirements and support them with their applications. For those looking for in-depth information, they’ve even created a new section on their website catering specifically to questions relating to those whose jobs have been impacted by COVID.
Who Qualifies Under the New Legislation?
So, under the new rules, who qualifies for unemployment insurance? As per the usual guidelines, you’ll need to ensure you can tick the boxes on all the following:
- You’ve worked in Oregon for a minimum of 1 year.
- You have been made unemployed through no fault of your own.
- You have earned $1,000 or worked 500 hours in the past year.
- You are able to work, are available for work, and are actively seeking employment.
Further to the introduction of the CARES act on March 24, the final part of the criteria has been treated to a more flexible reading. Under the new guidelines, you won’t be disqualified or considered unable to work if you have been forced into quarantine, if you need to stay at home to care for children affected by school closures, or if you are caring for someone with COVID-19. You may also be eligible if your employer remains open for business, but you do not wish to work due to the risk of exposure; if you have been offered the opportunity to work from home but do not want to work off-site; if you are forced to quit your job after becoming ill with COVID-19; or if you are a school employee who has been affected by closures (in the last example, you will be expected to keep in contact with your employer and be available for work when the school reopens. If the closure coincides with spring break, other provisions may be applied).
You may also be able to claim benefits if your workplace has temporarily closed: if your employer has suspended operations for a limited period, you can claim UI despite not actively seeking alternative employment. The only stipulation is that you maintain contact with your employer and are available to begin work again immediately once the temporary shutdown is over.
How to Apply
In a bid to stop the spread of COVID, the State of Oregon Unemployment Office has been accepting visitors by appointment only since March 24, so don’t turn up on the doorstep and expect to be seen if you haven’t called in advance. If you prefer to do things by phone, an application can be filed by calling 1-877-FILE-4-UI. Due to the high call volumes, however, you may find it preferable to log your claim online at the official website. Regardless of whether you’re logging a claim as a result of being impacted by COVID-19 or not, you’ll be expected to provide the same basic information:
- Your Social Security Number (SSN)
- Your Personal Identification Number (PIN)
- Your Phone Number
- Your Work History (this should be for the past 18 months, to include dates of employment and the name, address, and contact number for each employer)
Once you’ve submitted your initial application, you will need to submit a weekly benefit claim. This requirement kicks in immediately, so make sure to submit it every week even while your application is still under review. If you submitted a claim prior to the introduction of the March 29 CARES act, you do not need to resubmit your claim. The department will process the claim you have already submitted and send any additional payments necessary to cover periods where the new federal benefits would have been applicable.
How Much Will I Get?
Unemployment benefit in Oregon can be anything between $122 to $524 per week, depending on your personal circumstances and your previous salary. To find out how much you may be eligible for, check the Oregon Unemployment Insurance Benefits Calculator. Enter your salary and hours worked for the last 5 quarters, and the calculator will give you an immediate indication of what your total unemployment benefit may be. Just bear in mind this is an estimate only: your actual benefit may be different.
How Long Can I Claim?
Under normal circumstances, unemployment benefit is payable for a total of 26 weeks over a 52 week period. Under the provision of the CARES Act, the eligibility period has been extended to 39 weeks over a 52-week period.
Can I Appeal a Decision?
If your application is denied, you will receive a written notice to that effect along with a statement explaining why. If you disagree with the reason, you can log an appeal within 20 days of the mailing date. If you do decide to appeal, remember to continue to submit your weekly benefit claim while the appeal is being reviewed.