10 Timely Resources for Unemployment Filers

The CARES Act signed in late March included provisions to provide some financial relief to individuals who have lost their jobs, are suffering from reduced income due to the pandemic, or are unable to work due to needing to care for loved ones who are either ill or home due to their schools being closed.

The Act expanded unemployment benefits to cover many of us who wouldn’t typically be eligible for them, such as freelance workers, 1099 recipients and sole-proprietors. If you’re among them or have otherwise had your hours or income reduced, review the sources I’ve linked to below to determine if you should take the time to apply.

While I don’t have all the answers on getting unemployment claims approved, what I can offer is insight from my research and personal experience.

A few abbreviations and definitions before we start:

  • UI – Unemployment Insurance or Unemployment Benefits
  • CARES Act – The federal government package to help people and businesses impacted by the pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was signed into law on March 27th, 2020.
  • PUA – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Part of the CARES Act that funds additional aid to those who have exhausted unemployment benefits or are self-employed or sole proprietors.

  1. Your State’s Department of Economic Security

    Most states will have unemployment benefit information within their state’s Department of Economic Security (DES) website (or similarly named department), often with a specific tab providing information relating to COVID-19, Cornonavirus, or Pandemic. The links here are for my home state of Arizona. If you’re elsewhere, you can find links to your state’s site on the Department of Labor website.

    The higher level DES site would include links to information on other assistance programs in addition to unemployment such as, food programs like SNAP (Supplmental Nutrition Assistance Program, the modern name for what used to be called food stamps), medical assistance programs, childcare, aging adult, and disability programs.

    If you need help or think you may, please apply for it as soon as the question crosses your mind. Food banks can help cover your immediate needs while your applications are being processed. Many school districts have been able to offer curb-side pickup of meals for school-aged children, which may run run through the summer. Plan to submit a Free and Reduced Meal application for the next school year if you are not completely back on your feet.

  2. Unemployment Insurance

    Many of us have never applied for unemployment, or like me, it had been 20 years since I was laid off in the 90’s when my company relocated their centralized accounting operation.

    The process is that you will apply for unemployment and then file weekly claims until you are again employed or have alternate income. Be sure to file these weekly claims even while your application is pending. The benefit coverage would normally be paid retroactively to your filing date after it’s been approved.

  3. Eligibility

    Normally, if you were a full-time employee who was laid off or your workplace closed it’s doors, you’d be able to apply for unemployment benefits and be approved.

    With stay-at-home orders in place across the country (and the world), many more people are out of work, have had their hours reduced or they’ve been unable to work due to the pandemic. The staggering increase in volume has rendered many states processing software nearly useless and inundated their staff with calls around the clock.

    With the crazy volume and new pandemic-related rules, many states are still behind in processing applications. Or perhaps worse, because some state’s online applications forms weren’t updated or were confusing, many eligible people have received automated denial letters.

    If you’ve been financially impacted by the pandemic, apply as soon as you can. Getting the application started and filed is the key to starting the clock on potential payments.

  4. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

    Within the CARES Act, unemployment benefits were expanded to offer additional financial assistance to covered individuals AND expanded the coverage to include those who would not otherwise be eligible for coverage. The PUA is administered by each state and provides $600 per week in addition to the state’s own unemployment benefit.

    The main groups covered under PUA (assuming reduced income):
    • Freelancers, Independent contractors, and self-employed workers
    • Those who had previously exhausted UI benefits
    • Individuals who had their hours reduced hours

    The typical wait time was removed and individuals do not have to state that they are looking for work during the pandemic coverage period. It also required the extension of benefits to potentially go an additional 13 weeks, providing up to 39 weeks of coverage. The ‘wait time’ referred to is a built-in delay when you’re not expected to receive benefits (5 days), rather than it referring to a delay in processing time.

    California has a really good Q&A page (FAQ page) explaining eligibility, ‘acceptable’ reasons, and their process in general. It’s a good reference if your state isn’t as detailed.

  5. Applying – Confusing Questions

    The online forms can be tricky to navigate, particularly when you’re self-employed. They ask for you to list your employers – in Arizona, I believe the instructions early on said to list your 1099 clients (if applicable). In some states I’ve looked at it tells you to leave the employer section blank if you are/were self-employed.

    An sole proprietor acquaintance of mine got tripped up when answering questions about having been in a union. It seemed to not care about when his union affiliation occurred (it was a good 20 years ago).

    One of my own mistakes (and the application didn’t let you go back a page) was that I selected (based on the examples provided) that I was ‘discharged’ from my last 1099 job since literally – my services were no longer required (the job was done). I realized too late that ‘discharged’ was their kind way of saying ‘fired’. {Insert scream here!} LOL. I had to backpedal and sent a note to my client to expect a form letter and my misunderstanding. Hopefully my response and theirs will rectify the situation.

    If you come across something confusing, my ultimate advice here is don’t mull it over. Don’t sleep on it. Fill out the forms and get them in. If there’s room to explain it, do it concisely and hit [submit]. If the results aren’t favorable or as you’d expect, respond in writing and/or contact a human and explain your understanding of why you answered as you did.

  6. Documentation

    Within your unemployment application, and/or later via form letters, you’ll be asked to confirm your identity (with a drivers license or other form of ID), to document your eligibility (prior earnings), and the reason that you’re in need of assistance (loss of income, unable to leave the home due to quarantine, unable to work from home, etc.)

    To support your prior income amount, you may be asked to submit pay-stubs, bank statements, 1099’s, financial statement and/or a prior tax return. If pertinent numbers are within the documents that aren’t easy to notice, circle them (electronically or physically) and label them. If you’ve got a combination of papers or several different accounts, I recommend including a short summary listing the items you’re providing and explaining what they are so there’s no need for the recipient to try and figure out what they’ve got in front of them.

    It’s important to respond to every request for documentation or explanation promptly and thoroughly. Letters will often have deadlines or dates showing when to return them by with the requested information or documents. If the due date passes, send in the information anyway. A delay in getting them in may impact the start date of receiving funds, but if you’re eligible it shouldn’t be the cause of a denial.

  7. Denial of Benefits

    Here’s where it gets tricky. Or trickier.

    Automated systems with un-revised forms will kick out denial letters such as the one I received. Despite entering my last 1099 client, the system showed that I entered no wages from an employer (which is technically correct, of course). It also sent me forms asking for explanations on a small pension (a QDRO actually) that I receive, wanting documentation of my income and hours worked, as well as my last ‘pay stub’.

    I’ve submitted my responses and documentation and will twiddle my thumbs until I hear what’s next. I received two emails this weekend saying PUA monies will start to be disbursed in Arizona this week to those who have been approved. I’m blessed to have some funds still in my bank account and a now-approved PPP awaiting funding, but I know so many others don’t have that luxury and are truly stressed over these UI applications.

    As shown below on their website, Washington state’s process expects your PUA-covered application to result in a denial for their regular benefits. In contrast, Arizona says that you must have at least $1 of regular UI benefits in order to receive the $600 PUA weekly funds.

    While I wish I had real answers for denial issues, I can only offer the recommendation that you remain patient if your application is still classified as pending and that you counter any denial if you feel that you qualify according to the Federal guidelines.

  8. Communication

    If you’re sent letters (by post or email) about your unemployment application or claim, be sure to read them word by word.

    Whether it’s a confirmation of receiving your application, a denial letter, or a request for more information, be sure to read each line. Embedded within the robotic-generated form may be questions for you to reply to, information that is counter to how you interpreted it, or a key date that you need to be attentive to.

    If you need to interact with the UI processing staff, understand that they’re likely over-whelmed and overworked themselves and likely were complaining about the software for years. Be polite. Be thorough. And be persistent.

  9. Create Electronic Documents and Files

    If you don’t have some sort of document management tool you love already, take a look at CamScanner and see if it meets your needs. I’ve been using it for 18 months now and now have my kids keep their homework assignments on their own accounts so they’ve got them if they need to be referenced or re-submitted.

    Download their free app and use it to take pictures of your Unemployment Benefits letters or anything else you receive or print out. It will automatically outline the document in your shot and you can adjust it as well as increase the contrast to make it clearer with their onscreen tools.

    Some UI benefit claims require you to respond to them by mail or fax (see below for faxing info). I typically take pictures of blank forms before I fill them out, then again after I do. That way I can re-print them if I want to re-do them. (If i just need to do a quick correction, I don’t worry since I use FriXion erasable pens 99% of the time.)

    I might keep originals for a week or so, then shred them. From the CamScanner app you can download the images to email or electronically fax them if needed (see #10) in either their mobile app or website.

  10. Free Online Faxing

    To respond to letters you may receive, you can typically mail the responses or fax them in. If you don’t have a fax machine (who does anymore?), you can use an online service where you upload a PDF of the document with your responses (see #9). With Fax.Plus you can send up to 10 pages free. Alternatively you can fax 3 pages plus the coversheet free per day with FaxZero. If you’ve got more than 3 pages to send in, their charge is $1.99 per fax up to 25 pages.

    With either service, you’ll set up an account, confirm it with a confirmation number you receive by text or email. Fax.Plus accepts only PDF format, FaxZero allows other formats noted in their FAQs.
    Each will show you onscreen that the document has been sent as well as send you an email noting it.

Need a Lender to Process your PPP application?

The National Bank of Arizona is accepting new customers from any state. They provided me with excellent service when processing my own PPP loan and I’m happy to recommend them.

*If links or information I’ve provided have been helpful to you and you choose to use NB|AZ, please feel free to list me as your Agent on the application. There is no cost to you but I would receive a small commission from the National Bank of Arizona if your PPP loan is funded. Thank you!

10 Timely Resources for Unemployment Filers
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