The program is jointly run by the federal government and states, which are about to receive help to bolster their programs. The new stimulus law provides $1 billion in emergency grants for unemployment insurance.
Half of that money can be used to immediately bolster staffing, technology, and other administrative functions. States can collect the second half after experiencing a 10 percent rise in unemployment, as long as they take certain steps to temporarily make it easier for applicants to qualify. States set their own eligibility rules and benefits, which are generally calculated as a percentage of your income over the past year, up to a certain maximum. Some states are more generous than others, but unemployment typically replaces about 45 percent of your lost income.
Most states pay benefits for 26 weeks, but some have pared that back to as little as 14 weeks.
Many states cover only full-time workers, and some have made it more difficult for temporary workers to get coverage. Gig workers are also unlikely to qualify because they’re largely considered self-employed. You might not even have to lose your job to qualify. If you’re quarantined or have been furloughed — and you’re not being paid but expect to return to your job eventually — you may be able to get benefits.
Who and what the new paid leave law covers
Most workers at small and midsize companies, as well as government employees, can get paid leave as long as they’ve been employed at least 30 days.
Qualified workers can get two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. They can get 12 weeks of paid leave to care for children whose schools are closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak.
Part-time workers will be paid the amount they typically earn in a two-week period. People who are self-employed — including gig workers like Uber drivers and Instacart shoppers — can also receive paid leave, but they must calculate their average daily income and claim it as a tax credit.
There are gaps, though. Companies with more than 500 employees — which employ 48 percent of American workers — are excluded from the rules. Eighty-nine percent of employees at these companies already have paid sick leave, but rarely as long as two weeks. Their low-wage workers are also the least likely to have it. But some big companies, like Walmart and Target, have added paid sick leave for coronavirus.
Small employers with fewer than 50 workers can apply for exemptions, and employers can decline to give leave to workers on the front lines of the crisis: health care providers and emergency responders. These changes aren’t permanent. The leave law expires Dec. 31.
Unemployment Eligibility Scenarios
The following possible scenarios show how the pandemic may affect unemployment benefit eligibility.
Note: Any pension, annuity, or retirement income you receive may affect how much you receive in unemployment benefits if you are eligible. If you get paid your regular pay or sick leave while you are out of work, you may not be eligible or it may affect how much you receive if you are.
Self-Quarantine (But Not Mandated)?
If you self-quarantine and do not have COVID-19, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits, even if you do not have enough paid sick, vacation, or other leave to cover your time off
If you self-quarantine without your employer’s permission and lose your job, you may not be eligible
If you self-quarantine and have COVID-19, you may be eligible
If your employer sends you home and asks you to quarantine yourself for a specific period of time:
If your employer pays for your time off or allows you to use your accrued paid leave, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits
If your employer does not pay for your time off and you either do not have paid leave or do not have enough paid leave to cover the time off, you may be eligible
If you are quarantined by government order, you may be eligible
Sick Family Member?
If you stay home to care for a sick family member and lose your job:
You may be eligible if the family member is your minor child
You may not be eligible if the family member is an adult
Employer Closes Business?
If the employer closes the business indefinitely or permanently because of the pandemic and lays off all staff, you may be eligible
If your employer closes the business for a specific period of time and lays off staff during that time:
If the employer does not pay you during the business closure and does not allow you to use paid leave to cover the time off, you may be eligible
If the employer pays staff during the business closure, you may not be eligible
If you use paid leave to cover the specific period of time, you may not be eligible
If the employer pays you for unused paid time during the layoff, you may not be eligible
Employer Keeps Business Open But Lays Off Some Staff?
If the employer keeps the business open, but lays off some staff:
You may be eligible if you are laid off
If the employer pays you for unused paid leave time, you may not be eligible or your eligibility may be delayed
Employer Keeps Business Open But Reduces Staff Working Hours?
If the employer keeps the business open, but reduces staff working hours:
If you are placed on reduced hours, you may be eligible for partial unemployment
Help for renters and homeowners
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced a nationwide eviction and foreclosure moratorium (https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/OCHCO/documents/20-04hsgml.pdf). If you, like many homeowners, have a mortgage owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, they will suspend foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days. This includes foreclosures that are already in progress.
The order also applies to people with loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration — so-called F.H.A. loans.
If you rent, the best national resource found so far is the search-by-state function on Justshelter.org. This offers information on local organizations that can provide advice to renters in distress. Just Shelter’s founders are Matthew Desmond, the author of the book “Evicted,” and Tessa Lowinske Desmond.
What to do if you need Social Security help
The Social Security Administration is mostly closing more than 1,200 offices where Americans get help with applications for retirement, disability and Medicare benefits. But payments to more than 69 million Social Security beneficiaries are not affected.
The government is closing offices to the public in most situations until further notice. Offices that hear disability insurance appeals also are closed. Service will continue to be available via the agency’s toll-free line — (800) 772-1213 — and its website (https://www.ssa.gov/onlineservices/) for most routine services, including help with benefit claims or requesting a new Social Security card.
Field offices will only offer in-person assistance on a very short list of crucial services. These include reinstatement of benefits in dire circumstances; assistance to people with severe disabilities, blindness or terminal illnesses; and people in dire need of eligibility decisions for Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid eligibility related to work status. Those seeking in-person help must call in advance.
Ways to keep the lights on and the phones working
Some utility providers are offering to stop cutting people off for nonpayment.
A number of large internet companies have agreed not to terminate residential or small business customers who can’t pay their bills: AT&T, Comcast, Cox, RCN, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. A full list of companies is available on the Federal Communications Commission site (https://www.fcc.gov/keep-americans-connected#pledges)
It is not yet clear whether companies want customers to call to invoke this relief and provide proof or whether they will offer it automatically to everyone. People who need help should call and ask.
Financial planners offer free advice to distressed individuals.