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COVID-19 and Regular Unemployment Insurance

Produced by Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed October 15, 2020

If you had to leave work because of COVID-19 you should be able to get Unemployment Insurance.

If your hours were cut because of COVID-19, you may be able to get some Unemployment Insurance.

Keep in mind

If you get any UI at all, you will also get $600 for every week you could not work between March 29 and July 25. You may also be eligible for an extra $300 for every week you are unemployed as the week ending August 1, 2020 until the week ending September 5, 2020 but only retroactively as long as the FEMA money lasts

You will get 13 more weeks of federal UI (PEUC) added to the number of weeks you already get state Unemployment Insurance.

You may be eligible for up to an additional 13 more weeks of federal UI (EB) after you have used up PEUC.

COVID-19 related reasons for stopping work

You may qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance if you are not working because:

  • You were diagnosed with COVID-19 or you have symptoms.
  • A member of your household was diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You are caring for a family or household member who tested positive or was diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You have primary responsibility for a child whose school or child care is closed and you need to care for them.
  •  You have primary responsibility for a member of your household who needs care.
  • Your employer, or a government order told you to "self-quarantine."
  • You have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
  • Your immune system is compromised due to a serious health condition.
  • You have a reasonable belief that because of COVID-19 going to work could harm your health the health of your child or dependent, other immediate family member or household member.
  • You do not have childcare or your child’s school is only open for virtual learning. If your child’s school is open for in-person learning, if you have a reasonable belief of harm to your child, family or household member, those factors will also be considered .
  • You were scheduled to start work but you no longer have that job or you cannot go to work due to COVID-19.
  • The head of your household died from the corona virus so now the whole household depends on you for support.
  • Your place of work closed or reduced your hours  because of COVID-19.
  • You had to quit your job because you tested positive for COVID-19 or you came into contact with someone who tested positive.

 

How much money do I need to have earned to qualify for regular UI?

You need to have earned $5,100 in the past year and your total earnings need to be more than 30 X your weekly benefit amount.

You cannot get regular UI if

  • You can telework full-time with pay. But if your hours are reduced, you may be able to get some UI.
  • You are getting paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits for the same hours you usually worked. But, if your paid leave is based on hours that were reduced because of COVID-19, you may be able to get some UI. See How much UI can I get?
  • You quit a job that offers paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.
  • You are not a US citizen and you do not have a valid Social Security Number and work authorization.
  • You quit work just to collect UI. This is UI fraud. You must pay back any UI payments you collected fraudulently, with interest before DUA will look at a new UI claim.

DUA will deny your application for regular UI
if you applied for regular UI because you had W-2 earnings of at least $5,100 and

  • you are home because you have no child care or adult care, or
  • you are a college or high school student who lost part time work due to COVID-19, or
  • you are a clergy or religious worker.

Once you get the denial you will be eligible for PUA and you can apply for PUA.

 

But you need to apply for regular UI first, and get the denial before you apply for PUA.

How much UI can I get?

The dependency allowance counts towards the $100/ UI benefits you need to qualify for the $300/week Lost Wages Assistance benefits. LWA helps people who could not work during any weeks that ended August 1 2020 through September 5, 2020.

  1. Everyone who gets any state or federal UI can get an extra $600/week week from March 29, 2020 to July 25, 2020. This means if you only get $1.00, you still get the extra $600/week. This $600/week is in addition to any state or federal UI you get in these 4 months.
    If you were doing workshare you should have gotten the $600/week. Your employer applied for work share so that you worked less hours and got UI to cover the days you did not work If you were in a Training Program you did not get the extra $600/week.
    The $600/week ended July 25, 2020.
    If you have been unemployed since August 1, 2020 and your initial UI amount is $100/week you could be getting the new $300/week benefit called “Lost Wages Assistance.." Your $100 UI benefit amount is any type of unemployment benefits and includes your dependency allowance.The kinds of unemployment benefits you could be getting. are regular UI, PUA, PEUC, EB or while on WorkShare.  If you get less than $100 later because of you earn only some what you were earning, you still qualify for the LWA.
  2. The UI you get is:
    About half the amount you earned every week when you were working. The most you can get is $855/week.
    Plus:
    $25/week for each child for whom you provide more than 50% support, and who is:
    • under 18,
    • under 24 and a full-time student, or
    • needs you to stay home and not work because of they have mental or physical disabilities. There is no age limit for children with mental or physical disablities.

    But there is a limit on the weekly amount you can get for your children. You can only get $25/week per child up to 50% of your weekly unemployment benefit. This $25/week is a "dependency allowance."

 

Part-time work

If you work part-time while you are getting UI, you can still get partial UI benefits.

You can earn up to 1/3 of your benefit and your benefit will stay the same as if you were not working.

Wages you earn over 1/3 of your benefit are deducted from your UI check. These wages are your "earnings disregard." You cannot earn more than your Unemployment benefit wth the earnings disregard and still get Unemployment. This means that you cannot earn 133% or more than your weekly unemployment benefit.

For example

If your regular UI benefit is $300/week:

  • You can earn $100/week and you will not lose any of your regular UI benefit.
  • Once you earn more than $100, the UI benefit you get goes down with each dollar over $100 that you earn.

As long as you get UI and you earn less than your benefit amount and earnings disregard, you should get an extra $600/week between March 29, 2020 and July 25, 2020. . Even if you only get $1.00 of partial UI, you still get the extra $600/week between 3/29/2020 and 7/25/2020. If DUA decided your benefit should be at least $100/week when you first applied for benefits, you should still get the extra LWA $300/week for weeks you did not work between August 1, 2020 and September 5, 2020. If your benefits go down because you earned less after DUA decided your first benefit amount, you still qualify for the LWA $300/week until the money in this fund runs out.

How many weeks of UI benefits can I get?

Right now, the maximum number of weeks you can get Unemployment is up to 26 weeks regular benefits. Some people get less than 26 weeks because of the way the law calculates UI benefits.  See How your unemployment benefits are determined on Mass.gov.

You can also get 13 weeks of the PEUC federal extension after your UI benefits run out as long as your benefits ran out after July 6, 2019.

And you can get up to another 13 weeks of the EB extension. But the government is not paying PUA and PEUC after December 26, 2020. Congress may extend the date. The end of EB weeks depends on the state’s unemployment rate, when it gets much lower, it will end. 

Your benefits go back to when you stopped work and applied for UI.

If you have been unemployed for a few weeks and your employer did not tell you to apply for UI, or you were delayed because it was difficult to apply, you can get UI benefits for the weeks you missed. This is called a “predate.”Be sure to note in the UI Online system when you first became unemployed

How do I apply?

File a claim with the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA)’s UI Online.

UI Online is available daily from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Applying through UI Online is the fastest way to get UI benefits. You can apply online in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Vietnamese or Haitian Creole, but the rest of the website is only in English and some Spanish. You can use a smartphone or tablet to apply in these different languages, but if you need to use any other part of UI online you must do it from a computer and it is in English only. If you are applying in English, you have to use a computer, you cannot apply in English from a mobile device.

If you have trouble completing the application online, ask for help.
Call 877-626-6800
The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) has dedicated phone lines for people who speak Spanish and Portuguese. If you speak another language, the DUA will use an interpreter.

How do I prove to the DUA that I should get UI benefits?

DUA will ask you the name of your employer or employers during the past 15 months.

They will get your wage records from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) to see how much you earned from each employer. To get these records, DUA needs the exact name of your employer. Be sure and use the name of the employer and the employer’s ID number that is on your W-2.

Important

Use the employer search tool in the online application, to answer the questions about your employer. DUA is denying many Unemployment applications because the name of the employer does not match DOR's records.

After DUA checks your earnings records with DOR, they will notify you. Check the notice to make sure the information they have about all your earnings is correct. They call this information “monetary eligibility”. If the monetary eligibility is wrong, call 877-626-6800.

If the DUA approves your application and if you might return to your work after the coronavirus pandemic dies down, stay in touch with your employer.

You do not need to give DUA any medical documentation to show you are not working because of the coronavirus. But, if your employer is asking you to return to work and you cannot return because you have "reasonable concerns" for your health, it could help you to get a note from your health care provider.

If you miss a UI deadline because of the coronavirus or its effects, you will be excused for missing the deadline. But pay attention to all communications from the Department of Unemployment Assistance so you can avoid any problems or delays in getting UI.

How Do I Continue to Get Benefits?

To continue to get benefits you have to certify on a weekly basis that you are able, available and actively seeking work that is suitable for you during this pandemic. You can certify on-line (English only) or Telecert with a TeleCert PIN. See DUA’s instructions for creating a TeleCert PIN.

TeleCert line is available in Spanish, Portuguese and Cantonese.

You can get the instructions in 13 languages.

If you are on “standby” status with your employer, you must keep in touch with your employer and be available for all hours of suitable work offered by your employer.  Standby status means you are temporarily unemployed because COVID-19 has caused your employer to have less work. As long as you are on "standby" you can answer "Yes" to the 2 certify questions each week.

  1. "Yes", you were able or available to work and
  2. "Yes" you worked or looked for work.

Even if you are not yet getting benefits, or you are appealing a denial, continue to certify each week.

How Do I Get The 13 Week Federal Extension of Unemployment or PEUC?

If you have used up or “exhausted” your regular benefits, PEUC will automatically begin.

If your “benefit year” – the 52 week period after you applied for unemployment has ended -- you have to file a new claim for regular UI and you must get benefits under that claim (even if the amount is lower). If you are not eligible for a new claim, you can get PEUC on your prior claim.

If you were getting PUA after exhausting your regular benefits or after your benefit year had ended, you will have to reopen your “exhausted” claim, online. We know this is all very exhausting!

How do I get the federal Extended Benefit or EB and how long can I get EB?

If you have used up or exhausted your regular benefits and PEUC, you may be eligible for EB.

To be eligible for EB, your benefit year, the 52-week period after you applied for regular UI, must end on or after May 9, 2020.

You must have had 20 weeks of work in your “base period,” the one-year period before you applied for regular UI. You can prove that you met the “20-week test” in 3 ways:

  1. Your total earnings in the base period were more than 40 times your weekly benefit amount. Or
  2. Your total earnings in the base period were equal to or higher than 1.5 times the amount you earned in the highest paid calendar quarter. Or
  3. You worked for 20 weeks in your base period in a job that is covered under the unemployment program. Because DUA does not have a record of weekly earnings, you will need to prove that you meet this test with your weekly wage record.

The number of weeks of EB depends on the number of weeks you got regular UI. The number of weeks of EB is the smaller of 13 weeks or half the number of weeks you got regular UI. If you got the full 26 weeks of regular UI, you get the full 13 weeks of EB. If, for example, you only got 20 weeks of regular UI, you get 10 weeks of EB.

If you are on PUA, you do not get Extended Benefits.

Non-citizens

If you are a non-citizen you need a valid Social Security Number and work authorization to apply for UI.

Getting UI does not count as a public charge. It does not affect your immigration status.

Reminder- Save your time off!

If you are getting paid leave, you cannot get UI at the same time.

You do not need to use up all your unpaid sick time, vacation time, personal time. If you do not have any paid leave, apply for Unemployment as soon as you stop working.

Remember to apply for other benefits too

See:

SNAP Food Assistance - Workers who lost hours or job due to COVID-19

COVID-19 and MassHealth and Health Insurance

More information

See the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance webpages COVID-19 unemployment information. If you have trouble completing your UI application online or you have questions about the status of your application, call 877-626-6800, or use the DUA Contact Request form.

Created June 1, 2020

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