Nearly half a million workers have lost their jobs in Massachusetts due to the COVID-19 crisis. If you find yourself suddenly jobless, here are some tips for filing a claim for unemployment benefits:
Q. I just got laid off. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
A. Very likely, yes. Virtually anyone who has lost income because of the virus is eligible, with the exception of those who have been “paid under the table.”
Q. How do I apply?
A. Unemployment insurance is administered by the state Department of Unemployment Assistance. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, you can no long apply for benefits in person. And the call center has been so overwhelmed that it can no longer process claims.
Q. So how do I apply?
A. The only way to apply is online. But you may encounter problems. The state is relying on a computer system that needs to be updated and upgraded. If the computer system won’t accept your application you have to get a call back from somebody at the unemployment agency. To get that call, you have to fill out a form online.
Q. Who’s eligible?
A. Anyone who has lost work because of the virus. That includes full-time and part-time workers.
Q. Independent contractors and “gig” workers too?
A. Yes, the federal government has stepped in to greatly expand eligibility for unemployment benefits to include self-employed workers and independent contractors. Another group now eligible are laid off workers who previously did not qualify for state unemployment insurance because they did not work long enough or earn enough. The state say it will take until April 30 to have its computer system ready to accept claims for these expanded categories.
Q. Are unemployment benefits expanded by the federal government in other ways?
A. Yes. The federal government is adding $600 a week to all unemployment claimants. And it is adding 13 weeks of benefits beyond the existing 26-week cut off. If you are already receiving state unemployment, you will automatically begin receiving the extra $600, retroactive to March 29.
Q. How long will it take for my benefits to be processed?
A. It could be quick. If the computer system accepts your application, it will be a matter of a week, if not days. The state is currently paying benefits to 250,000 claimants. But for those having problems filing online because of common problems with passwords that require a call back from a state employee the wait could be much longer.
Q. What kind of information will I need to apply?
A. Your Social Security number and other personal information; names, addresses, and phone numbers of all your employers for the past 15 months; reasons for leaving jobs; work start and end dates; and recall date (if you were laid off but have a date to return).
Q. How much will I get?
A. It’s based on your earnings. The more you earned, the more you’ll get. The state says you will receive approximately 50 percent of your average weekly wage. To give you an idea, if you earned $40,000 in the last 12 months, your benefit would be $385 a week, according to an online state calculator. If you earned $60,000, the benefit would be $577. (People with dependent children may be eligible for higher amounts.) The maximum weekly benefit is $823.
Q. Can I apply in Spanish?
A. Yes, the Baker administration recently added a link to do so.