Losing your job for any reason is stressful. The federal unemployment program is intended for just this situation- providing a short term financial solution while you look for a new job. Whether you lost your job because of a national crisis or because your employer needs to reduce staff, you may qualify for unemployment benefits. Each state has specific regulations for unemployment, so be sure to check with your state office for details.

Determine if you qualify for unemployment.

Unemployment benefits provide short term relief (up to 26 weeks) while you are between jobs. You will need to meet certain criteria to qualify for unemployment.

  • You must be legally permitted to work in the United States. This means you must either be a U.S. citizen or have a valid work authorization. You will have to provide your social security number or identification number to apply. Undocumented workers are not eligible.

  • You have to be out of work through no fault of your own. If you quit or were terminated because of serious misconduct, you will not be eligible.

  • Your unemployment has to be short term. Most states have minimum income requirements for the year before you file for unemployment. If your work history is very temporary or seasonal, you may not qualify.

  • You have to be able to work and are actively searching for a new job.

Find out if you qualify for unemployment as a result of COVID-19.

The federal government passed the CARES Act shortly after the mandatory stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19 in March 2020. This is for workers who are unable to work due to these stay-at-home orders. It provides $600 per week for eligible workers and is currently set to expire at the end of July 2020.

These are the criteria you need to meet to qualify for this Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program:

  • You have lost your job due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. If your position has changed to work-from-home, you are not eligible. If your hours have been cut, but you are still working occasionally, you may be eligible. This changes by state so check with your local unemployment office for details.

  • Unlike typical unemployment, those who are self-employed, freelancers, gig workers and contractors can collect this benefit.

  • It doesn’t matter how much you were making before the pandemic. Even if you made less than $600 per week, you will still get that amount through this program. The $600 is a flat rate for everyone who qualifies, regardless of their salary in normal circumstances. If you were receiving unemployment in March when the shut down was enacted, you can also apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for an additional $600 per week.

  • If your job is still open, but you are caring for a sick family member, have tested positive for COVID-19, or are unable to travel to the work site as a result of shelter-in-place restrictions, you can apply for this program.

You can apply for both unemployment AND Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

The $600 weekly benefit is in addition to what you earn through the regular unemployment program. It also adds another 13 weeks to your unemployment benefits.

Unlike the typical unemployment program, contract workers, part time employees and those who are self-employed can apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The amount will vary for unemployment payments, but the PUA adds $600 per week to your total.

Be truthful on your application.

Unemployment is a federally funded program. Your last employer is notified when you apply for unemployment because they will need to verify the dates you were working. Intentionally misrepresenting yourself does carry consequences. These can range from penalty weeks for unemployment, where you have to wait to start receiving benefits, to fines and possibly jail time.

Most states offer unemployment applications in Spanish as well as English to help you file a complete and accurate application. Depending on the state, you may have to visit the unemployment office in-person to request an application in Spanish rather than filing online.

Future employers will not know that you collected unemployment.

Federal and state unemployment programs do not release any information about who has collected unemployment or for how long. The only way a future or potential employer could tell that you likely collected unemployment is by gaps in your work history.

While many of the details on applying for and receiving unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) vary by state, the federal government supports programs that give you the resources to provide for yourself and your family during a personal or national crisis. These programs are intended to help you be successful and to find gainful employment in the near future. Often, you can also find help with job searches, writing resumes, and interview preparation through the unemployment office as well.

For specific questions, contact the unemployment office in your state.