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What to Do When… You’ve Lost Your Job or Your Hours Have Been Cut

Expanded unemployment insurance will likely replace most or all of your earnings temporarily and a federal stimulus payment is probably on its way. However, it might take a month or more for funds to arrive. This is what you need to do to get through these tough times.

Immediately 1. Apply for Unemployment Insurance

2. Maintain health insurance coverage

3. Reduce expenses

Later 4. Start saving

5. Sign up for UI Training Benefit

Always 6. Stay connected

1. Do This Immediately: Apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Apply for the:

  • Regular, existing Unemployment Insurance (UI) program,
  • New Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, and
  • New Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program

Depending on your state, these program applications may be bundled together into a single application or separate. Either way, you apply for all of them via your state’s UI Agency. Contact information for your state’s UI Agency is at this website: https://tinyurl.com/State-UI-Agencies

It will likely take at least 3 weeks after your application is approved for your first payment to arrive so apply in the first week that you’re without work or have had your hours cut.

Because of the many and big changes to UI right now, you should forget what you thought you knew about the program. Even if you’ve never qualified for UI before or think you’re not going to qualify now, go ahead and apply.

The pandemic has spurred the creation of new, temporary, UI programs and rules. Every state’s UI agency is rushing to update their computer systems and get the new programs up and running. Once systems have been updated (expected by mid-April), these changes will result in:

  • Expansion of UI eligibility to cover many workers who weren’t eligible under the old rules. This includes workers with low earnings, limited work experience, those who work part-time, and self-employed, gig and freelance workers, W-2 and 1099 workers. UI is also available to workers who quit as a direct result of COVID-19 or associated caregiving responsibilities.
  • Bigger weekly payments for qualifying workers (an extra $600/week for April through most of July). Depending on the state you live in, if you made less than $20/hour in your job, you may temporarily make more per week on unemployment insurance than you did working.
    • When bonus payments end in July, regular UI will probably cover just about 45% of what you earned at work
  • More weeks of UI payments. Eligible unemployed workers can receive up to 13 weeks of UI payments on top of what your state already offers, up to a maximum of 39 weeks.

Many states are waiving job search requirements:

  • While stay-at-home orders are in place
  • If you’re still employed but working less, furloughed or on standby
  • If you begin an eligible training program while on UI

 

Info you may need to apply for UI What you should expect
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your name, birthdate and contact information.
  • Information about any and all jobs you had during the last 18 months, including:
  • The names and mailing addresses of your employers
  • The dates you worked at each. Use your best guess if you don’t remember the exact dates.
  • Information about your earnings from paystubs, W-2s, or 1099s.
  • If you don’t have this info, still apply. Some states may be able to look you up in their systems or let you self-certify.
  • Last date worked (or worked full-time)
  • If you’re not an U.S. citizen, your work authorization information.
  • Ex-military need copy of DD214 Member 4 form.
  • Your account and routing numbers for your bank or credit union. Choosing direct deposit means you’ll get paid faster. Most states will put your UI payments on a debit card if you don’t provide account information.

 

 

 

 

 

  • UI websites and call centers are overwhelmed. You may experience long wait times or have to try repeatedly to get through. Don’t give up.
  • Many of the changes won’t be up to date in state computer systems until mid-April. Apply immediately upon losing work but, if you’re turned down for regular Unemployment Insurance, apply again in mid-April for the new pandemic UI programs.
  • It is usually faster to apply online. It is very important that you don’t lose or forget your password for your online account. Write it down and keep in a safe place. Losing your password may delay benefit receipt by several weeks.
  • You will be mailed important information about your claim and the UI program. Be sure to read and respond to all requests to avoid payment delays.
  • If you don’t provide bank account information, many states will put your UI payments on a debit card that you’ll receive in the mail.
  • It may take several weeks before you start receiving benefits but – if approved – you will receive benefits for every week since you lost work or earnings.
  • You may be required to create an account and post a resume on a state job board.
  • For as long as you receive UI, on weekly or bi-weekly basis, you will need to certify that you remain eligible.
  • You will be taxed on UI benefits received. If you given the opportunity, choose to have tax withheld from your payments.

If your application for UI has been denied, even after you’ve re-applied or appealed, reach out to a local Legal Aid office for assistance: https://www.lsc.gov/what-legal-aid/find-legal-aid

2. Do This Immediately: Maintain Health Insurance Coverage

If you had health insurance through your employer and lost your health insurance when you lost your job, you are eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act or, in some cases, Medicaid. Your financial situation may qualify you for free or discounted insurance.

Go to www.healthcare.gov to start this process. Once you enter your location, it may transfer you to a new website specific to your state.

If you’re having trouble applying online, make an appointment with a Navigator or Certified Application Counselor affiliated with a local nonprofit or health care provider. People in most states, can find a list of these resources through this website: https://widget.getcoveredamerica.org/connector.

If you already have private health insurance and cannot afford an upcoming monthly deductible, call your insurance carrier immediately to try to negotiate a late or reduced payment without interruption to coverage.

3. Do This Immediately: Reduce expenses

Your budget is going to be super tight while you wait for your UI and stimulus payments to arrive. You may be able to use the tips below to temporarily reduce your expenses.

Regardless of whether or not your city or state is listed on one of the websites, contact your landlord immediately to let them know about your hardship and try to negotiate late or reduced payment. Do not wait until rent is due as advanced notice is required in most places.

Both Verizon and Comcast have also indicated that they’ll waive some fees but you need to call and request them to do so.

  • Water, gas, and electric services providers in many communities will also maintain service even in cases of nonpayment. Look on your utility providers’ website to find out what whether they’re automatically maintaining service for everyone or require that you request it and provide documentation of hardship. If there is nothing on their website, call and let them know about your hardship and ask about options, including discounts for low-income households.
  • Food – For immediate assistance, you can access a directory of local foodbanks at: https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank.

Additionally, many states have made it easier to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) and expanded. You can find the website for your state SNAP agency at:

https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-directory

Even with schools closed, many school districts are still providing meals to students who were receiving free and reduced lunch. Information about ongoing meal programs is compiled at these sites:

  • https://bit.ly/2JZEclm
  • https://frac.org/research/resource-library/state-websites-and-meal-lists-maps
  • Credit cards – Most major banks are giving cardholders suffering financial hardship some leeway. Accommodations may include deferring payments for a month or more, waiving fees, and arranging an extended payment. Generally, you need to call your credit card company and request accommodations before a payment is due. You might suggest:
    • Deferring payments for a month or more
    • Waiving fees
    • Arranging extended payments

Expect long hold times. Once you get through,

  • If you succeed in getting a hardship accommodation, ask that your payments be marked current on your credit file to ensure that your credit score won’t be affected. Be sure to get the agreement in writing in case a mistake is made.
  • If you can’t get a concession from your credit card issuer, try to at least make a minimum payment, which will help you maintain your credit rating

Information about the hardship accommodations available from many credit companies is compiled here: https://tinyurl.com/CC-Covid-help

  • Student Loan Debt – For federal student loans only, you can temporarily stop making payments until September 30. For loans from any other entity, including state agencies, Sallie Mae, and other private or school held loans (including Perkins), call your servicer to explore your options.
  • Car Insurance – Because so many of us are driving less due to stay-at-home orders, many car insurance companies are offering discounts. Call your insurance company and request a discount.

4. Do This Later, After Payments Have Arrived: Start Saving

Eventually, you will begin to receive your UI payments, including payment back to the day you became unemployed. Because of a temporary $600 per week boost in UI payments, most workers who earned less than $20/hour at their job will make at least as much, or more, on UI than they did while working through late July (after, July, the weekly UI benefit level returns to normal). This pandemic likely means that we will experience either a long recession or several short ones. As a result, you may either be out of work for a long time or start and stop working several times. Take advantage of this opportunity and save UI payments above and beyond what you used to earn in your paycheck for the next rainy day.

When your stimulus payment arrives, first, pay any back rent or utilities and buy needed groceries and supplies. Then, save the rest. With so much uncertainty about the future, now is not the time to splurge.

Remember, too, that you will owe taxes on Unemployment insurance received. Setting aside some money from every UI check for taxes will help you be prepared for a tax bill in Spring 2021.

If you don’t yet have a bank account, you can find a list of accounts that have been pre-screened by the nonprofit BankOn community for affordability and allowing online sign-up at: https://joinbankon.org/home/remotebanking/

SaverLife is an online community of workers trying to accumulate short-term savings for a personal goal or emergency. Prizes are available to encourage you along the way and you can also access free phone coaching from financial professionals Check it out at www.saverlife.org

5. Do This Later, After Payments Have Arrived: Sign up for UI Training Benefits

Skills and credentials can help you stand out from other applicants and get a better job. Most states allow workers receiving UI who enroll in an eligible training program to:

  • Receive unemployment insurance for more weeks
  • Focus on building their skills, instead of constantly searching for a job

But first, you need to let the UI agency know that you’re interested in training and tell them before your UI benefits run out, the sooner the better. In most cases, your required to notify them before beginning training.

These programs have different names in every state. Google “[your state’s name], unemployment insurance, and training” to find out more. Or, call the phone number in your UI letters and tell them you want to be part of a training program while on UI.

Once you’ve learned more about your state’s policies around training while receiving UI, you need to find a training program you’re interested in, that satisfies the UI agencies requirements, and that will help you get a new job. Please note that UI will not pay for training costs. However, you should be able to get help finding a good fit training program and financial assistance from an American Job Center near you, which you can find at

https://tinyurl.com/Job-Centers

6. Do This Always: Stay Connected

Things are changing fast. For the most up to date information about supports for unemployed workers, and to be sure you’re at the top of the list to be rehired when business picks up again, stay in touch with your job coach. Check in regularly by phone. They can help most when they’re kept up to date.

  • Stay informed

There is a lot of misinformation out there. Knowing the real story can help you stay healthy and protect your finances and identity from scammers. In addition to your job coach, government websites are a reliable source of information.

To avoid scams:

  • Do not respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government.
    • Most government agencies send letters or require you to login to a secure account to read messages.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. There are no known cures or vaccines for covid-19.
  • Hang up on robocalls.
  • Volunteer

If you and your family or roommates are healthy and you have time available, consider volunteering to help others. In addition to doing good in the community, volunteering is a great way to build your experience and skills so that you remain competitive when looking for work.

With so many people struggling to get by, local food banks are super busy right now. Volunteering at them can be a great experience to add to your resume. Find a food bank near you at https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank.

The websites below list other opportunities, sorted by location:

www.volunteermatch.org and www.justserve.org

Lastly, the following website lists ways you can volunteer without leaving your home:

https://www.justserve.org