Posted on: April 4, 2020

Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19

Current as of May 18, 2020. This is a rapidly changing situation. Please check back for updated information.

What changes have been made to unemployment insurance for the Coronavirus crisis?

Added benefits are available to people on temporary leave without pay, laid off, or finding themselves without work through no fault of their own.

Some changes are currently in effect:

  • Normally, people do not get unemployment benefits for the first week they are out of work. During the COVID-19 crisis, you can get paid as soon as you are out of work.
  • No work registration or work search is required for now, but you still have to phone in or go online weekly to fill out information about your current work status to keep getting benefits.
  • If your unemployment is due to COVID-19 you will not be disqualified because of the way that your job stopped (even if that would normally make you ineligible). For example:
    • If you have COVID-19 or symptoms, are awaiting test results, or are quarantined because of it;
    • Someone in your house has COVID-19 or you are caring for someone with it;
    • You are caring for a child or someone else who can’t attend school or work that closed due to COVID-19;
    • Your job ended or you cannot get to it because of the COVID-19 crisis;
    • You now have to work because your household’s breadwinner died of COVID-19;
    • They had to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;
    • Their place of employment is closed because of COVID-19 or you had to quit because of it.

For these other Federal changes, it will take some time to change the state’s computers. But they should automatically be added to your unemployment benefits:

  • An extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits for weeks on unemployment until July 31. You might get this extra $600 with your normal benefits or it might come separately. These payments can be retroactive back to any week when you got unemployment compensation, going as far back as the week of March 29, 2020.
  • Unemployment benefits can temporarily run up to 39 weeks instead of the usual 26 weeks.

There is another change that you will need to apply for if you need it. But applying before the computers are ready will not help.

  • More people will be eligible for unemployment benefits. (See below.) You should be able to apply for this some time in April. Check the agency’s Laworks.net site regularly for information about when you can apply for it.

Who else will now be eligible for unemployment benefits?

In addition to regular payroll workers, some workers who were ineligible for unemployment benefits will be covered – but not until the state’s computers are changed. This includes self-employed workers, “independent contractors,” freelancers, workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long-enough work history to get regular unemployment.

You might also be eligible if you still have a job, but you are not being paid either because your workplace has closed temporarily or because you have been told to stay home from work.

And some people who have not had jobs are now eligible, if their home’s breadwinner died or their job ended because of COVID-19 before they started at it.

How do I file for unemployment benefits?

You can apply for unemployment benefits online or by phone. When you apply be sure to answer “yes” to the question, “Are you filing for Unemployment Insurance benefits for reasons related to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?” This will provide needed information to the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) to help process your claim

To apply online, go to: https://www.louisianaworks.net/hire/vosnet/Default.aspx. This video from the Louisiana Workforce Commission explains how to apply for unemployment benefits online. But it has not been updated with some of the new information above.

You can also try to file a claim by calling their claim center at 1-866-783-5567. As of March 17th, their call center hours are 8 am to 7 pm. The lines are very busy. Expect to be on hold for a long time.

The website for applying is so busy it may crash while you are applying. Go back again and consider trying times when few people would be applying, like late at night or early, before business hours.

If you need help filing your application:

  • You can call the Louisiana Workforce Commission if you have help with the website: 1-866-783-5567 or email HiRE@lwc.la.gov.  The Call Center is open 8am-7pm Monday to Saturday. Expect long delays because so many people are applying for benefits right now.
  • Contact Job1 for help: 1-504-658-4500 Monday - Friday 8:30am-6:30pm (Please do not leave a message on this line. The voicemail is not attended.
  • If you still cannot complete or submit your application for unemployment benefits, you can apply for free legal help from Southeast Louisiana Legal Services by calling our COVID-19 Legal Helpline at 1-844-7871 or you can apply online at https://lastate.kempscaseworks.com/server/shared/a2jviewer.htm.

What do I do after applying? What happens next?

Protect your rights:

  • Keep your records straight. You'll get many notices from the agency, ESPECIALLY if your claim involves more than one employer. The papers can get confusing. Keep all your papers in one place, or in an envelope or folder.
  • Make sure to file for your weekly certification. The following video shows you how to file your weekly certification:
  • Read notices right away. Because the appeal time is so short, you can lose your rights if you don't act quickly (within the 15 days).
  • When you file, the agency looks at your claim and:
    • Sends a "Monetary Determination" Notice. Read this carefully. Mistakes are often made here. Make sure all your earnings and jobs for the time period are listed. If it's wrong, you have a year to appeal. But, it's best to appeal right away. Maybe you can show the agency your check stubs, tax returns, or W-2 forms. You may need a lawyer if you don't have written proof.
    • Sends each employer notice of your claim once it finds you eligible, and gives each employer the chance to file a "protest" on your claim.
    • Sends a “Qualifying” or “Disqualifying” notice to you and each employer covered by your claim.

How long before I start getting benefits?

There are likely to be delays because so many people are applying for benefits right now. We cannot predict how soon you will actually receive the money. The state also needs to update some of its systems, because of the recent changes. The Louisiana Workforce Commission recommends using their internet application for faster service. It does crash as discussed above.

If you are denied or get a finding that you are ineligible, or if a former employer files an objection to your unemployment benefits, Souteast Louisiana Legal Services may be able to help. Call our Covid Hotline at 1-844-244-7871.

How much will I get in unemployment benefits?

A number of factors determine eligibility for benefits. If you qualify for regular Louisiana state unemployment benefits, you will receive a maximum of $247/week in these benefits.  As discussed above, because of the CARES ACT, unemployed workers can also receive an additional $600/week on top of their regular unemployment benefits. You might get this extra $600 with your normal benefits or it might come separately. These payments can be retroactive back to any week when you got unemployment compensation, going as far back as the week of March 29, 2020. As of today, the Louisiana Workforce Commission has not started issuing these additional benefits.

Many unemployed workers who not qualify for regular Louisiana state unemployment benefits will qualify for $600/week in benefits under the CARES ACT.

Will I have to pay taxes on my unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits are taxable. Especially because of the $600 a month increase, it is a good idea to have federal and state income taxes withheld on these payments, so you do not owe thousands of dollars when next year’s income taxes.

Will unemployment benefits stop us from getting Medicaid or SNAP or Housing Assistance?

The $600 per week increase in unemployment does not count against Medicaid or CHIP. Nor will the extra $600 count against “Section 8” or public housing rent. But the rest of your unemployment check does. The countable part will not usually make you ineligible for Medicaid, but for some households with other income, it will.

Both parts of the unemployment compensation do count against SNAP (food stamps) and most other programs that have to consider your income to decide if you’re eligible.

I’m an undocumented worker. Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?

Workers must be authorized to work to receive unemployment benefits. This means that undocumented workers are not eligible.

I have an to option to work from home or work remotely. Can I get unemployment benefits instead?

If you can be paid to work from home or remotely, you are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

My employer reduced my hours, but I still have a job. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

Yes, if your wages are less than the amount of unemployment compensation you are eligible for (before the extra $600 is added).

I was over-paid unemployment benefits in the past. Does that affect my eligibility now?

The rules for past overpayments of unemployment have not been changed. If you owe money due to past overpayment of unemployment benefits, any new unemployment benefits will automatically go to repay the debt. You should still apply for unemployment benefits now, because the sooner you become eligible, the sooner your debt will be paid and the sooner you will start receiving payments.

For more information about Unemployment Compensation overpayments, visit: https://louisianalawhelp.org/resource/overpaid-unemployment-compensation-benefits-1

My application was denied. Or, I was found ineligible for unemployment compensation. Or, I was found eligible for unemployment compensation but then one of my former employers appealed. What do I do?

If the notice is against you (“Disqualifying”), appeal right away and keep on with weekly reporting. If the notice is in your favor (“Qualifying”), you should get your weekly benefits right away, plus any past-due benefits, and your employer can appeal. Keep on with weekly reporting.

If any of these happen to you, you can apply for free legal help from Southeast Louisiana Legal Services by calling our COVID-19 Legal Helpline at 1-844-244-7871 or you can apply online at https://lastate.kempscaseworks.com/server/shared/a2jviewer.htm.

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