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Having Trouble Applying for Unemployment Insurance? These Tips Can Help

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Whether you’re applying for Unemployment Insurance (UI) for the first time, or having trouble applying for the new benefits available as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve got some information and tips to help you navigate the process.

Help! I can’t get through to my state’s unemployment office

Websites in many states are overwhelmed to the point of crashing with the volume of people trying to use the online application system for Unemployment Insurance. The phone systems are similarly unable to handle the sheer number of calls coming in right now. If you can’t get through to your state’s unemployment office, here are a few things you can do:

  1. If you can’t get through to the website on your computer, try connecting to the website using your phone. Accessing the Internet through your phone may give you a faster connection than through a computer.
  2. Try a different day of the week. There’s typically a lot of website traffic on Mondays, so you may have better success if you wait until later in the week to try to connect. 
  3. Your state may have some rules for when you should be trying to connect. Notice on your state’s website if there are specific times you should try to log in. In some places (like New York) they are staggering the days people can apply, based on the spelling of their last name. Other places (like Texas) have recommended days and times for you to call, based on your area code.
  4. If you’re not able to access the website, try calling instead. Get the phone number and website for your state’s unemployment office here. You might have better luck getting through if you call during off-peak hours, such as early in the morning or after 6:00 p.m. If that’s not possible for you, try between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.  or 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. 
  5. If you really need to speak with someone, you can write your state’s Unemployment Insurance agency a letter (submit it via email if that’s an option) with your concerns and questions — send them all your contact info (email, phone numbers) and the hours you are available and ask someone to please call you. 
  6. Some states (but not all) are guaranteeing applications can be backdated if people have trouble getting through. Document that you’ve been trying to call or log in so that you have evidence (e.g. screen shots, exact times of phone calls written down) that may help you get retroactive benefits for the period when you qualified/started trying. Be sure to know the date you lost your job or wages, since retroactive benefits will rely on this date that you report.

If you continue to have trouble getting through, here’s another good tip to know. As part of the CARES Act stimulus package, those who qualify for unemployment benefits will receive $600 per week through the end of July — and those who qualify are eligible for retroactive payments as far back as March 29th, if they were unemployed at that time. 

What do I need to be sure I’m ready when I get through?

Generally, you should file your claim with the state where you worked. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, it’s likely that the  agency where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.

Make sure you’re ready with all the information that you’ll need so you don’t lose your place in line or timeout from a session on the website. Every state has its own system and requirements for registration, and you can find those details for your state here. Check out your state’s must-have list (check it twice!) to make sure you have everything you’ll need when you do finally get through. 

No matter what state you live in, when submitting an application for an initial claim, you will need to provide:

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Mailing address
  • County of residence
  • Driver License or state-issued ID number (if available)

You’ll also likely need the following information about your employment history: 

  • The names, addresses, and phone numbers of all employers for the last 18-24 months
  • The last day worked immediately prior to filing the UI claim 
  • Rate of pay, total earnings, and information about your job separation for each employer 
  • Amount (before deductions) and date of any payment for severance, retirement, vacation, holiday or unused sick pay 
  • Alien Registration Number, if applicable
  • If released from military service in the last 18-24 months: Copy # 4 of DD Form 214 
  • If employed in the Federal Civilian service in the last 18-24 months: Standard Form (SF) 8 or SF 50 
  • If you end up qualifying for benefits and you would like your unemployment payments to be directly deposited into your bank account, you will need your bank routing number and account number

What if I get denied?

Right now, there are two primary unemployment programs — the “traditional” state-based programs and the PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Many states are requiring that people apply first to the regular unemployment program. Then, once you’re denied (for example, because you still have a job, but can’t work due to stay at home orders or family responsibilities), you can apply for PUA. 

If you apply and get denied benefits to which you believe you are entitled, you can seek out legal aid to fight the denial. The American Bar Association offers a free, virtual legal advice clinic. 

Will there be enough funding to cover everyone in need?

Unemployment benefits are not “first come, first served.” Being able to receive benefits is based on meeting eligibility criteria in your state, which is not currently limited to a specified number of recipients. States will be able to cover everyone who is eligible for as long as the law allows for benefits. But keep in mind that the extra $600 weekly benefit is only approved through the end of July.

Most states provide up to 26 weeks of Unemployment Insurance benefits (8 provide less). There are now 13 extra weeks of benefits available through the end of the year, for 39 weeks total. 

It’s a lot to juggle, here’s where to get more help

We’ve gathered a handful resources that can help you navigate all of this:

The U.S. Department of Labor has a good website with information about unemployment benefits and how to apply. Check it out

Here’s a great FAQ from the National Employment Law Project with a lot of tips and resources: http://www.unemployedworkers.org/

The AFL-CIO has collected resources by state for workers impacted by COVID-19. Search by your state to see what organizations can help you out in your area.
If you still don’t know if you’re eligible for Unemployment Insurance, you can use this straightforward “decision chart” or fact sheet from Family Values@Work to help you figure out the benefits for which you are qualified.

This article is brought to you through a nonprofit, newsroom partnership with our friends at ParentsTogether. Click here to learn more about ParentsTogether.