Who qualifies for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Unemployment insurance can provide a temporary but vital replacement of earnings during the COVID-19 crisis. Unemployment insurance (UI) is a joint federal-state program. It’s administered by states and provides cash benefits to eligible unemployed workers. In response to COVID-19, qualifying for unemployment has become more flexible. Even if you didn’t qualify for UI in the past, you may qualify now.

Criteria to qualify for unemployment insurance

Normally, to qualify for UI, you must be unemployed due to a lack of available work and must meet minimum work and earning requirements. In light of COVID-19, federal guidelines have expanded UI to more workers. Your eligibility depends on your personal circumstances and your state’s policies. In general, assistance now includes workers who:

  • Can’t go to work because their employer temporarily closes due to COVID-19
  • Are diagnosed with or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking diagnosis
  • Are ordered to isolate or quarantine by a medical provider or public health official
  • Can’t work due to caregiving responsibilities directly related to the pandemic
  • Have exhausted their regular unemployment insurance benefits
  • Aren’t ordinarily eligible for unemployment benefits, including self-employed workers, gig workers, part-time workers, and workers with low earnings or limited work experience, who have lost work or income because of COVID-19’s health or economic consequences

UI is not available for those able to work remotely or receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits for their customary work week.

What to expect when you apply

Weekly UI payments from early April through late July will have an extra $600. You may receive a prorated amount of this if you’re still working part-time. Federal guidelines also allow states to extend UI payments for additional weeks.

Individual states administer UI benefits and set different guidelines for eligibility. To check on your eligibility and apply for UI benefits, visit your state’s program online. Apply as soon as you can, and keep trying. Many states’ systems are outdated and overwhelmed by applications. Once you submit your application, it may take three or more weeks to receive your first benefit check.