Posted on: April 4, 2020

Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19

Current as of August 6, 2020. This is a 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:

  • Until July 25, there was an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits. Congress and the President are deciding whether to bring this back or change it.
  • Self-employed workers, “independent contractors,” freelancers, workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long-enough “wages” or work history to get unemployment benefits before are now eligible.
  • 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.
  • The work registration or work search requirements have been reinstated. You will have to report on work search when you  phone in or go online weekly to keep getting benefits.
  • If lost your job due to any of the following COVID-19 reasons, you will not be disqualified because of the way that your job stopped (even if that would normally make you ineligible):
    • 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.

Also, if any of those reasons keep you from getting a new job, you can qualify.

And if those reasons apply your unemployment benefits can continue up to 39 weeks if you meet all other requirements (like calling in weekly, etc.). For example, normally if an employer offers your old job back, that would end your unemployment benefits. But if you have to be home with your school-age child, you currently remain eligible for unemployment benefits.

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 a new job.

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. The lines can be very busy. Expect to be on hold for a long time.

What if I need help applying?

  • 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. If the agency asks you for a document you do not have, you may have the right to rely on “self-attestation.” If the agency asks for documents you do not have, free legal help may be available 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.
  • 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.

Will I have to pay taxes on my unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits are taxable. Especially while benefits are increased, 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?

Because the $600 per week has ended, it is expected that another 46,000 people in Louisiana will qualify for SNAP (food stamps). They can apply and are eligible now since it is not certain what Congress will do. The $600 increase in unemployment did not count against Medicaid or CHIP. Nor did 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. But for many, unemployment compensation is low enough that they still qualify for other help.

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 your stated weekly benefit amount 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?

Currently, this can vary case by case, depending on the specifics of what makes you eligible for unemployment benefits.

If you are not paid because of a past overpayment:

  • Southeast Louisiana Legal Services may be able to give free help. Call our Covid Hotline at 1-844-244-7871.
  • Keep making weekly calls or online reports. This may reduce and pay off any overpayment.

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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