If you’ve lost your income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not the only one. As Market Watch reports, between March 15 and March 21, a record 3.28 million people applied for unemployment insurance, reflecting a huge spike in layoffs as a result of the economic downturn. And it’s far from over: as non-essential businesses are ordered to close, the increase in applicants is only likely to continue. In response to the crisis, the government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on 27th March, a $2 trillion stimulus package that will pay workers up to an extra $600 a week in addition to what they receive in their unemployment claim for up to 4 months. The bill will also make $350 billion in loans available to small businesses and establish a $500 billion loan fund to support industries, cities, and states. Individual states have also applied measures to cope with the increased number of unemployment insurance applicants. In New York, Governor Cuomo has waived the 7-day waiting period for workers in shared work programs to claim unemployment insurance for those who’ve been laid off as a result of COVID-19. In addition, the usual 26-week maximum claim period has been increased to 39 weeks. Certain changes have also been made to the eligibility criteria for unemployment benefit, resulting in applicants whose claims may previously have been denied now qualifying for support. If you’re one of the many New York residents who’ve been affected by the crisis, it’s worth checking exactly what your entitlements might be before you start dipping into your savings.
Do I Qualify?
Under the usual rules, applicants for unemployment benefit must be able to demonstrate they fulfill the following criteria:
- I have worked in New York for a minimum of 18 months
- I am out of work through no fault of my own
- I am ready, willing, and able to work
- I am actively seeking employment
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, expectations regarding the last two points have been relaxed. As the Unemployment Handbook reports, you may now be eligible for unemployment if:
- You are sick with COVID-19.
- You have been quarantined as a result of COVID-19. (Note here that if you are not yet sick and are claiming as a result of exposure only, you may need to provide written validation from a healthcare professional of your exposure).
- You are acting as a caregiver to someone with COVID-19.
- You are self-employed and your business has been adversely affected or shut as a result of COVID-19.
- You have been laid off because of COVID-19.
- Your working hours have been cut because of COVID-19.
- You are unable to work because of school closures.
- You have been furloughed because of COVID-19. (If the layoff is temporary, you will not be required to prove you are actively seeking work. However, it is expected that you maintain contact with your employer and are ready and able to return to work once the temporary shutdown is over).
- You are unable to work because you have been ordered to stay at home because of COVID-19.
How Do I Apply?
Before you can start collecting benefits, you need to file an application. The day you should log the claim is determined by your surname. If your surname starts with the letters A – F, you will need to file your claim on Monday. If it starts with G – N, file on Tuesday, and if it starts with O – Z, file on Wednesday. If you weren’t able to make the claim on the specified day, submit on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.
Although you can log a claim by telephone on 1-888-209-8124, your application will be processed faster by logging it online. Applications should be lodged at the Department of Labor website. If you already have an online account, sign in using your NY.GOV ID. If you do not yet have an account, you will need to create one.
To file the claim, you will need to have the following information to hand:
- Your Social Security Number (SSN)
- Your driver license or Motor Vehicle ID card number (if applicable)
- Your mailing address
- A phone number where you can be reached between 8 am – 5 pm, Monday –Friday
- Your Alien Registration card number (if applicable)
- Your employment history for the past 18 months, to include the full names and addresses of your employers
- The Employer Registration number/ Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) of your most recent employer (if you don’t know this, it will be on your W-2 form)
- Your copies of the SF8 and SF50 forms, if you were a federal employee
- Your most recent separation form (DD 214), if you have been on military service
Once you have submitted your claim, the Department of Labor will assess your eligibility and decide if you qualify. You must continue to verify your claim for each week that you are unemployed, even while you are waiting for a decision to be made on your application. If you are approved, you will need to enter your banking information for payments to be made. As benefits can no longer be made by cheque, you will need to register to receive the payments by either direct deposit into your bank account or through an automatic debit card.
Throughout the term of your unemployment, you can monitor your benefit status by logging into your online account. It’s advisable to log in regularly to keep a check on payment deposits and ensure there have been no discrepancies in payments. If you do notice any irregularities, the direct messaging system will allow you to submit a message to the department safely and securely. If you logged your unemployment claim prior to the CARES Act coming into force, you do not need to resubmit it. Simply continue to verify your weekly benefits claim and the department will automatically send any top-up payments that apply under the new scheme.