As Rhode Island slowly starts to reopen, the number of unemployment claims are gradually beginning to taper off. Unfortunately, the news is likely to be scant conciliation for the thousands who’ve already lost their job as a result of the crisis. While Unemployment Insurance benefits (UI) can’t hope to replace a lost wage entirely, it can make a huge difference to those with no other source of income. If you’re one of the thousands that have been affected by the pandemic, here’s what you need to know about how to file for unemployment in Rhode Island.
Check Your Eligibility
Before you start your claim, check your eligibility. Rhode Island, like every other state, applies strict rules to who can and who can’t file for unemployment. Until March this year, it was expected that all claimants:
- Be unemployed through no fault of their own
- Be legally authorized to work in the USA
- Be fit to work, available to work, and actively seeking work
- Have earned a minimum of $12,600 during the base period (i.e. the first four of the last five completed quarters) or during an alternate base period
But then COVID happened, and suddenly, the old rules stopped applying to quite the same degree. While you’ll still be expected to comply with minimum income expectations, you’ll no longer need to demonstrate that you’re actively seeking a new job if:
- You’ve been furloughed because of COVID and expect to return to work at some point in the future
- You aren’t able to work because of school closures
- You’ve been ordered to quarantine after exposure to COVID, or are the primary caregiver to someone who’s been ordered to do the same
- You’ve been asked to work reduced hours for a specific duration because of COVID
In a further shake-up of the usual rules, independent contractors and self-employed individuals (who would not normally be eligible to collect), can now file for unemployment compensation through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
File Your Claim
Rhode Island residents have one of two options when it comes to filing unemployment. They can either:
- Call the Department of Labor and Training on (401) 415-6772
- File online at the Department of Labor and Training website
Regardless of the method you choose, be prepared to offer the following information:
- Telephone number
- Street address
- Email address
- Mailing address (if different from street address)
- Date of birth
- State of residence, including zip code
- Social Security number (SSN)
- State you worked in most recently
- Driver’s license number or state-issued identification number (if different from residence)
- Primary Occupation
- If not a US Citizen: Alien Verification Number
You’ll also be asked to confirm information relating to any dependents you’re at least 50% financially responsible for, your full employment history for the past 18 months, and any other sources of income you’ll continue to receive (pension, workplace compensation, severance or holiday pay, etc.) while claiming benefits. For a full list of all the details you’ll be expected to provide, see this site.
How Much Can I Collect?
The total amount of benefits you receive on a weekly basis is governed by how much you earned over the base period. As Fool.com notes, your weekly benefit entitlement will be equal to 3.85% of your average wages during the two highest-earning quarters – although bear in mind that regardless of your previous income, the maximum amount that will be paid will be $586 per week. If you have any dependents, you’ll also be entitled to a dependency allowance of up to a maximum of 5% of your weekly benefit per dependent. As it stands, UI claimants will also receive an additional $600 per week on top of what the state allows. The payment was introduced as one of the provisions of the CARES Act in March, and will be payable for a maximum of 4 months in total, or until the end of July (whichever comes first).
How Long Can I Claim?
Normally, state benefits in Rhode Island can be claimed for a maximum duration of 26 weeks within a 52-week period. However, as another benefit of the CARES Act, this has been extended by an additional 13 weeks. The total that can now be claimed is 39 weeks.
When Will I Hear If My Claim’s Been Approved?
Once you’ve filed your claim, you’ll receive a confirmation number to confirm the Department of Labor and Training has received your claim and have started working on it. You might be contacted to provide additional evidence or information in support of your claim – if you are, try to respond as promptly as possible. Any delays may lead the DLT to work solely on the information they already have, which could have a negative impact on the outcome.
If the department does request additional info or if your claim requires review because of a complex employment history or multiple sources of income, the processing time can take anywhere between 7-14 days. If, on the other hand, the claim is straightforward, you could receive a decision in as little as 24 hours. The DLT caution against applicants calling customer support to check on the status of their application – if you’ve received a confirmation number, the file is being worked on and no further action is needed on your side unless requested. You do, however, need to make weekly certifications in order to claim payment. You’ll need to start doing this from the time you file your claim, even if it’s still under review. You can certify your weekly claims online using UI Online or by calling 401-415-6772 – don’t forget to claim, as you’ll only be eligible for payment on the weeks you certify. Once the DLT has finished reviewing your claim, they’ll issue a determination confirming your eligibility, along with your WBA and eligible weeks. If you disagree with the decision or any of the determinations, you have the option to file an appeal online at the DLT’s website.