Insurance Terms to Know If You’re Filing for Unemployment Right Now

Since the pandemic, the number of unemployment benefits claims has skyrocketed, with a shocking 17 million claims reported in a three-week period last spring. The number of weekly claims has since fallen, but recent metrics from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that plenty of Americans are still out of work.

[ Read: Where to Find Financial Relief During the COVID-19 Pandemic ]

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities (CARES) Act of 2020 expanded unemployment benefits to aid those who found themselves out of work due to COVID-19. If you fall into this category, it may seem overwhelming to navigate all of the benefits available, especially considering there are 53 unemployment insurance (UI) programs within the UI system in the U.S., all of which operate independently with its own rules and procedures. Still, it’s important to understand the various benefits available to you, which are in place to help keep you going after a reduction in hours or the loss of a job.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was included as part of the CARES Act to help plug the gaps for those who might not otherwise qualify for regular unemployment compensation. States are responsible for approving and administering PUA funds. This means you need to contact your state’s workforce agency to determine eligibility and apply for benefits. 

Who is eligible?

  • You or someone in your home was diagnosed with COVID-19 or has symptoms and is waiting to be diagnosed
  • You’re caring for a family member or someone in your home with COVID-19
  • You’re caring for a child whose school or child care is closed due to COVID-19
  • You’ve been quarantined by a government agency or health care provider
  • You are the primary source of income for a household due to a death caused by COVID-19

Workers can qualify for PUA if:

  • Your workplace closed because of the coronavirus pandemic
  • You were scheduled to start a new job but could not because of COVID-19
  • The pandemic makes it impossible for you to travel to your job (and you can’t work remotely)
  • You quit your job because of COVID-19

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) supplies additional benefits for up to 13 weeks after exhausting your regular state unemployment benefits. The program is available through December 31, 2020, with approval based on your regular state claim. However, you do need to apply for PEUC through your state’s appropriate agency.

Benefit eligibility

Benefit eligibility (BI) is defined as requirements necessary when it comes to filing for unemployment insurance. While each state has its own UI insurance benefits guidelines, you would typically qualify if you meet the following requirements:

  • You are unemployed, through no fault of your own, meaning you were fired or laid off
  • You meet the state’s requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time

Personal identification number (PIN)

Your personal identification number (PIN) is a four-digit number issued when you first apply for your unemployment benefits. This number is important, as you need it to file your weekly claims, among other things. Because the PIN is in place to prevent unauthorized access to your claim, it’s important to keep it secure.

[ Read: Coronavirus Unemployment: How to Apply for Benefits If You Lose Your Job ]

Interstate claim

An interstate claim authorizes states to pay unemployment benefits to claimants residing elsewhere. For example, if you live in New York, but your base period wages were earned in New Jersey, you can file an interstate claim against New Jersey. The same holds true if you live in New Jersey but worked in Manhattan. Through the interstate claim, the state in which you file the claim acts as the other state’s agent and can decide to award or deny your benefits.

State Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a joint state-federal program that offers cash benefits to eligible workers. The payments are in place to help provide temporary financial assistance should you find yourself unemployed through no fault of your own. You might have been fired or furloughed.

While the programs vary by state, benefits are generally based on a percentage of earnings over a recent 52-week period, with each state setting a maximum amount. To be considered, you need to file a claim with the UI program in the state in which you worked.

Unemployment claims may be lower than reported…

While economists can use UI filings to determine the health of an economy, this particular metric has run into a roadblock during the coronavirus pandemic. A recent article in The New York Times reported that what is being reported to unemployment claims might actually be lower.

There are a few reasons for this discrepancy. First, unemployment filings were never really meant to be a statistic for economic health. Furthermore, the system has had errors and has been targeted for fraudulent claims.

The other main reason is that the United States doesn’t have a single unemployment insurance system. Rather, it has 53 systems, one for each state, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Each operates independently, reporting weekly data to the U.S. Labor Department. That data can differ, depending on how it’s collected and counted.

Therefore, it’s likely that unemployment claims could be far lower than what has been reported, even as overall joblessness remains high.

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Amy Sorter

Contributing Writer

Amy Sorter is a finance and real estate journalist with more than 20 years of experience. Her writing has been featured in The Business Journals and The Simple Dollar.

Reviewed by

  • Andrea Perez
    Andrea Perez
    Personal Finance Editor

    Andrea Perez is an editor at The Simple Dollar who leads our news and opinion coverage. She specializes in financial policy, banking, and investing.