Who Qualifies for Unemployment Benefits?

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Who Qualifies for Unemployment Benefits?

- Oct 29 , 2020

Many adults go their entire working lives without ever having to file for unemployment, and those who do file often do so only in dire circumstances.  With the widespread effects of the coronavirus impacting industries across the globe, the number of Americans who currently find themselves out of work with no certain prospect of a return date are turning to unemployment to make it through.

The good news is, the government has responded to this increased need with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a stimulus package that provides for $2 trillion in relief funding for a variety of purposes, including unemployment.  How do you know if you qualify to receive this aid, and what can you expect?

Who Qualifies for Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment benefits typically vary from state to state, but often require a very specific set of circumstances to file, such as layoff (versus firing or quitting, for example), and ongoing search for work without getting hired.  Even then, people who file for unemployment can only expect to receive a percentage of their regular pay.  In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, however, the old model simply won’t suffice.

Luckily, the CARES Act accounts for this in a variety of ways.  You are eligible to file for unemployment if the coronavirus outbreak led to:

• Reduced hours or layoff at your current job

• Inability to start a new job for which you were hired

• Closure of your workplace

• The need to quit your job

• School or care facility closures that left you in the role of caregiver

• Direct impact, such as coronavirus symptoms, caring for someone diagnosed with COVID-19, and/or quarantine

It’s important to note that you are NOT eligible to file for unemployment if you’re able to work from home and continue receiving pay, or if you’re receiving paid leave from your job.

What about Freelance and Gig Workers?

In the past, freelance, contract, and gig workers who fell into the self-employment category were not eligible to file for unemployment.  Under the CARES Act, that has changed, at least temporarily.  These workers, along with anyone who is employed only part-time, can apply for unemployment benefits.  It’s unclear how benefits will be calculated for such workers, as weekly pay is rarely steady.

What Can I Expect in Terms of Benefits?

Each state has different rules for unemployment, including how benefits are calculated.  However, the CARES Act provides for an additional $600 per week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation per eligible worker, even if you have used up allowed state benefits.

If you qualify for unemployment benefits, you will continue to receive benefits under the CARES Act from the date you lose your job until July 31, 2020, with the option to extend state benefits by up to 13 weeks.  This income will not impact your ability to qualify Medicaid or CHIP health insurance benefits.


It’s imperative that you file for unemployment as soon as possible, as it can take 2-3 weeks to receive payment, even if you qualify, and that’s if you submit all required information correctly and no follow-up is needed.