Filing problems in Wisconsin are not new

Reports emerged last week about how efforts in Florida to make claim-filing more difficult are now knee-capping unemployment eligibility during this pandemic.

Privately, Republicans admit that the $77.9 million system that is now failing Florida workers is doing exactly what Scott designed it to do — lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims after the great recession.

“It’s a sh– sandwich, and it was designed that way by Scott,” said one DeSantis advisor. “It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”

Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters was more succinct: “$77 million? Someone should go to jail over that.”

With hundreds of thousands of Floridians out of work, the state’s overwhelmed system is making it nearly impossible for many people to even get in line for benefits.

Those in Wisconsin now having great difficulty filing unemployment claims will recognize these same problems: language barriers, mandates for on-line only claiming procedures, difficult to non-existent ways to correct or add claim information that do not fit complex Department-sanctioned processes, legalistic explanations of requirements that have become more complex rather than simplified and clarified, and a near complete absence on social media of explanations concerning unemployment eligibility, processes, and requirements.

And, these problems continue during this pandemic. The Department has only now on the morning of April 6th released versions of its pandemic FAQ in Spanish and Hmong.

But, actual on-line claim-filing, completing job registration requirements at the job center website, and satisfying on-line workshop requirements at the job center website remain English-only.

Note: The Department’s “solution” for these language barriers is to allow a claimant to call for assistance from an interpreter. This assistance, however, depends on the claimant reading the English-language requirements on the website to the interpreter over the phone if the interpreter is outside of the Department (i.e., not a Department employee).

And, the CARES Act FAQ created by the Department is English-only for now. And, to see what the Department is advising about the PUA benefits available under the CARES Act, you need to click here in order to then click on this PDF chart.

All of this clicking and advice to keep re-visiting these website for updated information forces everyone in Wisconsin to keep searching and exploring for answers to simple and vital questions that to them concern how will they pay for groceries and rent next week. The Department should be doing better.

In other words, even if a claim is filed, these on-line requirements to create a resume (not just upload) and to complete required on-line surveys remain in place for receipt of unemployment benefits. The access problems created by these requirements are well-documented and long-standing.

In contrast to Wisconsin, New York has created an excellent flow chart for how all of the various pandemic-related federal benefits will operate in conjunction with regular unemployment benefits.

New York CARES Act flow chart

This chart is front and center in New York state’s explanation of CARES Act benefits and was available in Spanish from the start. Indeed, New York will start paying out PUC benefits this week to its claimants and is now accepting applications by self-employed individuals for PUA benefits.

Until there are changes in Wisconsin, these filing tips and this FAQ should be essential reading for everyone filing unemployment claims in Wisconsin.

Implementing CARES act unemployment provisions

Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development is reporting on its FAQ that is will take several weeks to receive guidance about the unemployment provisions in the CARES act and then probably another several weeks before those provisions can be implemented.

Note: The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has already released its analysis of the CARES act as well as the earlier Families First act. This analysis notes some key provisions of these laws that DWD has yet to address, notably employer experience rating for pandemic-related layoffs.

Wisconsin may not have the time to wait. The Economic Policy Institute reports that nearly 20 million are expected to be out of work soon. Current — and shocking — national unemployment figures released today support this prediction. Indeed, after two weeks we are already nearly a third of the way there to 20 million. NELP reports:

This week’s unemployment claims report, which reflects last week’s claims, is up to 6.648 million, up 3.341 million from last week’s historic—and shocking—initial claims report. This is again a truly unprecedented number. Unfortunately, far too many eligible workers who are trying to file for unemployment are still encountering long waits or can’t connect at all with the state unemployment agency websites. NELP urges states to ramp up their claims-processing capacity as quickly as possible.

The Dep’t of Labor data for Wisconsin is just as shocking:

Wisconsin DOL weekly claims

Note: Thanks to Colin Gordon of the Iowa Policy Project for this data and charts.

So, Wisconsin should expect that phone lines and on-line claims systems will continue to be crushed.

Other states are attempting to respond to this onslaught of claims in creative ways, ways that Wisconsin should give serious consideration to adopting:

  • Massachusetts has been holding virtual town halls daily, and once or twice a week in Spanish for those applying for unemployment. Nearly 70,000 have taken part in this option over the past week. Thousands can be on the phone or online at once and staffers take live questions.
  • Massachusetts has also already signed an agreement with the Dep’t of Labor for implementing the CARES act unemployment provisions.
  • New Hampshire has signed its agreement as well. This agreement will, according to the governor, allow New Hampshire to shift regular unemployment claims arising from the pandemic to the federally-funded PUA benefits, increasing the benefits for many as a result of the higher minimum for PUA benefits.
  • Washington state’s FAQ already has information about the federal benefits in the CARES act as well as how other federal benefits (such as tax relief payments) will interact with unemployment benefits.

Note: for a full run-down of what is happening in the state’s in regards to unemployment, see Unemployment Insurance Protections in Response to COVID-19: State Developments.

Finally, employees should be on the lookout for employers attempting to siphon away some of the benefits headed to claimants. Ohio is reporting numerous instances of employers not paying last paychecks and employers trying to avoid unemployment by reducing/zeroing out hours. Wisconsin law requires last paychecks to be paid to employees, and any loss of work because of a lack of work — whether the loss is partial or full and regardless of how the lack of work is labeled — entitles a person to unemployment benefits.

Claims and phone calls

Claims have sky-rocketed in the past few weeks, and the Department of Workforce Development has been providing daily updates on these numbers:

Before pandemic claims started

Week 11    2020  2019   ratio
Sunday      746   948   0.8
Monday    1,237  1,376  0.9
Tuesday     809   811   1.0
Wednesday   674   738   0.9
Thursday    710   711   1.0
Friday      985   786   1.3
Saturday    537   217   2.5
Totals    5,698 5,587   1.0

When pandemic claims started

Week 12    2020  2019   ratio 
Sunday    1,499   826   1.8 
Monday    4,392  1,329  3.3
Tuesday   8,603   818   10.5
Wednesday 14,988  725   20.7
Thursday  16,252  703   23.1
Friday    17,094  789   21.7
Saturday   6,514   26   250.5
Totals    69,342 5,216  13.3

Second week of claims

Week 13    2020  2019   ratio
Sunday    10,872  963   11.3
Monday    21,250 1,412  15.0
Tuesday   18,638  918   20.3
Wednesday 19,438  699   27.8
Thursday  19,489  672   29.0
Friday    18,386  748   24.6
Saturday   7,606  228   33.4
Totals   115,679 5,640  20.5

Third week of claims

Week 14    2020  2019   ratio
Sunday    12,136  878   13.8
Monday    24,664 1,248  19.8
Tuesday           859   0.0
Wednesday         642   0.0
Thursday          679   0.0
Friday            709   0.0
Saturday          158   0.0
Totals    36,800 5,173  7.1

Claims for week 11 were nearly identical to what was filed last year. Starting with week 12, however, claims started escalating and took off on Wednesday of that week. Nearly 70,000 claims ended up being filed then.

The trend continued into week 13. Nearly 116,000 initial claims were filed that week, over 20x greater than the claims filed for that same week in 2019.

Note: March and April are typically when initial unemployment claims are at their lowest, as many workers are returning to jobs after seasonal layoffs because of winter.

As evident here, yesterday saw the highest number of claims filed on any day so far, almost 25,000 in one day.

The question for all of us is for how long will this increase in claims continue. The evidence so far is that is that this spike is likely to be ongoing. The Department reports that during week 13 the Department received more than 1.5 million calls.

Despite statements by Department officials, there does NOT appear to be any automated phone system in place for people to file their unemployment claims by phone. The only information so far is how to apply on-line. And, the Department’s FAQ for applying for benefits states only provides this information:

Q: How do I apply?

A: Steps to Apply Online
1. Go to my.unemployment.wisconsin.gov
2. Read and accept Terms and Conditions
3. Create a username and password
4. Logon to access online benefit services
5. Complete your application

Folks are calling into the Department help lines, however, because the on-line system is complicated and difficult to use (an initial claim usually takes an hour to complete and can take several hours and multiple sessions to complete if there are any wrinkles to that claim). This complexity may work well when the system is hardly being used, but complexity gets in the way of a mass need in light of this pandemic.

So, folks are turning to phone lines reserved for assisting claimants with their on-line claims. And, this turn to phone calls is occurring in massive numbers, roughly 15x times than the already record number of initial claims being filed.

The Department’s request for people to use the on-line system does not fix this problem. People are turning to these phone lines because they either lack access to the on-line system in the first place or because they cannot navigate the on-line system despite having access to it.

Note: While closed, public libraries are keeping their wifi on. So, cars in parking lots in rural Wisconsin are now pretty common despite the libraries being closed. We all love our libraries. The Public Service Commission and the Department of Public Instruction have introduced a web-link for finding free wifi hot-spots in Wisconsin.

And, the phone system is also making matters worse [see update below]. Claimants are reporting that the social security number gatekeeper to phone support remains in place. Under this system, claimants are limited to only calling into the Department for help on certain days, depending on whether their social security number ends in an even or odd digit. So, claimants are calling on their wrong day, entering in their social security number, and then being kicked out but not realizing the reason why. So, they call again and again.

In other words, these claims will continue to climb, because there are still more folks trying to file an initial claim than those who have gotten through.

Furthermore, the Wisconsin Policy Forum indicates that the job losses in Wisconsin because of this pandemic are already devastating (25 to 30% unemployment in some counties) and have hit low-wage workers in rural areas of the state the hardest.

Unemployment may well be the only economic engine in this state for the next several months. The Department needs to realize its essential role sooner rather than later.

Update (2 April 2020): My sources within the Department report that the social security number gatekeeper was removed several months ago. So, people are getting disconnected simply because the phone-support system is being crushed with all the calls.

My insiders also report that many of the calls concern ID and password problems with the on-line system. Claimants do not recall their specific ID and password information and cannot get the answers to security questions right. So, they need to call to get on-line access and passwords reset after verifying their identity to staffers.

To handle all of these calls, staffers are now handling phone calls (if not their regular job to begin with) every other work day.

Also, my sources indicate that those who lack on-line access now have the option of filing their claim on the phone with the assistance of a DWD staffer on the phone. The problem right now is getting through on the phone, however.

Update (15 April 2020): The PIN reset issue for people who previously filed for unemployment benefits has been a major problem in many states. The solution for many, like in Wisconsin, requires that the worker contact an agency representative by phone to reset the PIN number, which then contributes to a backlog on the phones as well. Washington state has put in place an easier fix for resetting a workers’ PIN.

Update (17 April 2020): Added a web-link from PSC and DPI for finding free wifi hot-spots.

 

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, aka the CARES act

Update-1 (26 Mar. 2020): the Ways and Means committee just released a FAQ on this bill.

Update-2 (26 Mar. 2020): a comparison of current pandemic relief measures from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and a press release from NELP on the new bill.

Update-3 (26 Mar. 2020): NELP’s description of the bill is now available.

Legislative leaders agreed on a bill, then there were some additional negotiations, and the senate has now passed an 880 page bill. Here is a summary of the unemployment provisions.

New kinds of unemployment assistance

The Act creates a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program which will be available for a large swath of workers who are not otherwise eligible for state unemployment insurance (UI). Eligibility for the program runs from 27 January 2020 through 31 December 2020, so eligibility is retroactive. The total duration of this benefit is 39 weeks.

The Act also creates a Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) benefit of an additional $600 per week for anyone receiving regular state UI or PUA. PUC will last through 31 July 2020 and will NOT be paid retroactively.

Finally, the Act creates 13 weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) for those who were classified as employees who have exhausted or will exhaust state UI benefits without finding a new job.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Covered individuals here include people who are NOT eligible for regular state UI, including individuals who have exhausted their state UI benefits, including Extended Benefits.

Applicants will need to provide self-certification that they are:

(1) partially or fully unemployed, OR

(2) unable and unavailable to work because of one of the following circumstances:

  • They have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and are seeking diagnosis;
  • A member of their household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • They are providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • They are providing care for a child or other household member who can’t attend school or work because it is closed due to COVID-19;
  • They are quarantined or have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine
  • They were scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or cannot reach their place of employment as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak;
  • They have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • They had to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • Their place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • They meet other criteria established by the Secretary of Labor.

OR are (3) self-employed (and have lost work), OR

(4) seeking part-time employment (if state law allows for benefits for PT workers) [Wisconsin’s benefit formula encourages part-time work when receiving unemployment benefits, but requires claimants to be looking for full-time work or as much work as possible for that individual given that individual’s physical limitations], OR

(5) do not have sufficient work history to qualify for UI, or otherwise do not qualify for state UI.

People who can telework with pay, and anyone receiving paid sick or paid leave benefits cannot receive PUA.

People eligible for PUA can receive up to 39 weeks of benefits, through 31 December 2020. There is no waiting week for the benefits. The benefits that are paid out as well as expenses for administering this program are covered 100% by federal monies.

PUA benefits are calculated the same way as they are for the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program under the Stafford Act (the model for the PUA program). So, there is a minimum benefit amount that is equal to one-half the state’s average weekly UI benefit (about $190 per week on average for all states). Wisconsin’s minimum DUA is $163. The maximum benefit will be $370, Wisconsin’s maximum weekly benefit rate.

Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC)

Through 31 July 2020, all UI and PUA claimants will receive their usual calculated benefits plus an additional $600 per week in compensation. The $600 in extra compensation is NOT retroactive.

The additional $600 per week may be paid either with the regular UI payment or at a separate time at the discretion of the state. But, this benefit must be paid weekly.

The PUC benefits that are paid out as well as administrative expenses are covered 100% by federal monies.

PUC payments are NOT income for purposes of eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

An additional 13 weeks of state UI benefits, tacked onto whatever the state currently offers (all but 8 states offer 26 weeks of UI). Wisconsin currently provides for 26 weeks of benefits, so now 39 weeks of benefits will be available here.

For those who might be eligible for regular benefits in other states, they must first apply for benefits in those other states before receiving PEUC benefits.

Note: This eligibility in other states was a major problem during the last recession and the EUC benefits made available then. Many claimants received EUC benefits only to find six months to a year later that they had to repay those EUC beenfits because they were eligible for regular UI benefits in other state if they had thought to apply for those benefits.

The PEUC benefits that are paid out as well as administrative expenses connected to PEUC are covered 100% by federal monies.

Job search and registration requirements each state has for regular UI benefits remain in place for PEUC benefits. But, “a State shall provide flexibility in meeting such requirements in case of individuals unable to search for work because of COVID-19, including because of illness, quarantine, or movement restriction.”

Claim-filing mistakes, penalties, and repayment

There are fraud penalties for anyone who makes “a false statement or representation of a material fact, or knowingly has failed, or caused another to fail, to disclose a material fact, and as a result of such false statement or representation or of such nondisclosure such individual has received” these new federal benefits. As DWD alleges fraud when making unintentional claim-filing mistakes and DWD will be administering these federal benefit programs in Wisconsin, folks should exercise extreme caution on this front.

The numerous warnings that begin every Wisconsin claim are there to indicate how aggressive the Department is on this issue. The Department does NOT consider failing to know something or mis-understanding an issue to be an adequate excuse for a claim-filing mistake. In other words, the Department presumes all mistakes are intentional fraud; any admission of a mistake, for the Department, constitutes an admission of guilt.

Note: The penalties for unemployment fraud are sizable. As of January 2020, the program integrity fund in which only a small portion of these penalties are deposited, amounted to $11,726,000 (see line 228). The Department is free to spend these funds as it sees fit.

Repayments that are needed when there are filing mistakes for non-fraudulent reasons can be waived when the over-payment of benefits was without fault of the claimant and repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience (i.e., an economic hardship on the claimant).

Finally, payment of benefits under these programs can NOT be stopped until “until a determination has been made, notice thereof and an opportunity for a fair hearing has been given to the individual, and the determination has become final.”

Short-Time Compensation (aka work-sharing) (STC)

Federal government will fully reimburse states for all STC programs as defined in Section 3306(v) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Grants will be available to states that already have STC programs to help improve and promote them. Wisconsin already has a work-share program.

Note: What is work-share you ask? In return for maintaining benefits for employees, an employer can keep workers employed at reduced hours. The reduced pay is subsidized with unemployment benefits covering the lost hours of work. The application form spells out the requirements for this program on the third page. For more information or to apply, call the employer contact number at the Department: 608-261-6700.

States that enact conforming STC programs after the date of enactment will also be eligible for funding and implementation/promotion grants.

STC plans entered into by employers must provide that the employer will pay to the State 1/2 of the amount of STC paid under the plan. This money goes into the state UI trust fund. I am unsure of what this provision will mean for Wisconsin employers that adopt a work-share program.

Other provisions

For states that waive their waiting week, all benefits paid for that week as well as administrative expenses will come from federal monies.

There is a “nonreduction rule” — as long as the states are participating in these programs, they may not do anything to decrease the maximum number of weeks of UI or the weekly benefits available under state law as of 1 January 2020.

Reimbursable employers like non-profit and governmental entities will be reimbursed for unemployment benefits paid out to their employees from 13 March 2020 through 31 December 2020. The Dep’t of Labor is supposed to issue guidance that “would provide maximum flexibility to reimbursing employers as it relates to timely payment and assessment of penalties and interest pursuant to such State laws.”

State unemployment agencies have flexibility to hire additional staff through 31 December 2020. They may engage temporary staff, rehire former employees, and retirees, all on a non-competitive basis.

Federal and state responses: Week 2

Current federal proposals

Last week, a bill was introduced in the Senate to provide unemployment benefits comprehensively to all workers affected by the pandemic. As the sponsoring senators explain:

The program will be particularly helpful for those without paid sick leave, and will cover self-employed workers and workers without sufficient work history to qualify for regular unemployment insurance.

Workers who would qualify for assistance under the program include:

  • Individuals who are sick or who have been exposed to coronavirus
  • Individuals who must care for someone who is sick with coronavirus
  • Individuals who cannot reach their place of work because of a quarantine
  • Individuals who need to self-quarantine to protect themselves from coronavirus
  • Individuals who must care for a child because of a school closure
  • Individuals who are working reduced hours due to coronavirus. (Individuals who have been laid off are covered by traditional unemployment assistance. While individuals who have had their hours cut by their employer generally qualify for traditional unemployment assistance, this proposal would ensure workers do not fall through the cracks if they are working reduced hours.)

The House has prepared its own bill, called the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act. This bill includes numerous provisions to assist hospitals in providing needed medical care as well as making that pandemic care more affordable to all.

For workers and businesses, the bill provides:

  • Economic assistance payments: $1,500 of immediate assistance per individual, up to $7,500 for a family of five. This benefit would be available to anyone with an individual taxpayer identification number, as well as to our nation’s retirees and unemployed individuals.
  • The expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without children for the first time in 25 years.
  • An increase in, and expansion of, the Child Tax Credit, and a change to make it fully refundable for families who currently make too little to receive the full credit.
  • A fully refundable employer payroll tax credit tied to the payment of employee wages during the crisis to encourage employee retention.

The bill also provides for some specific benefits and unemployment add-ons for those affected by the pandemic:

  • The creation of a temporary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) of $600 a week for any worker affected by COVID-19 and eligible for state or federal unemployment compensation (UC) benefits. The FPUC, combined with the underlying state unemployment benefit, would replace 100 percent of wages for the average U.S. worker.
  • The expansion of eligibility for unemployment compensation to self-employed workers, individuals who had contracts for work that were cancelled due to the virus, and new entrants to the job market, such as recent college graduates who otherwise would not qualify.

There is a FAQ on proposed economic assistance payments, and another FAQ on proposed unemployment compensation changes is also available. There is also a summary of the entire bill.

As NELP has pointed out, the exclusion of gig/mis-classified workers from traditional employment has dire consequences for those workers during an economic downtown.

In these volatile times, safeguarding the long-term health of the U.S. economy and society will require that all working people have good jobs that provide livable wages and benefits and a robust set of policies and programs that build economic security in cases of unexpected injury or illness and job loss.

The author of this post, Rebecca Smith, offers some excellent advice about what states can do to address this problem:

  • Announce that certain workers are presumptively eligible for unemployment insurance–including clearly identifying online platform employers like Uber and Lyft that are likely to have thousands of jobless workers applying for benefits–and accept a simple attestation from workers that shows that they meet the definition of employee;
  • Since their employers have not reported wages into state systems and payroll records are an application requirement, allow workers to upload evidence of their earnings when applying and accept any evidence that workers have at hand, while allowing workers an additional short period to collect earnings data and submit it to the agency;
  • Expedite processing of such applications, so that benefits get out the door quickly;
  • Take steps to audit large employers whose workers are presumptively eligible. With so many state funds in an already depleted state, agencies cannot afford to give free passes to employers who cheat. For example, the State of New Jersey has recently assessed $649,000 against Uber for failing to pay its payroll taxes.

Luckily, proposed federal legislation is expanding unemployment benefits to include mis-classified/gig workers. Still, the employers of these workers should not continue getting a free ride by mis-classifying their workers.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

This bill was signed into law last week and provides some need backstop support for state unemployment systems in return for some modest reforms in eligibility and processing by the states. Maurice Emsellem has the details:

This paper summarizes the UI provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which takes effect on April 3, 2020. The law provides a down payment of $1 billion in federal funding to help the states meet the huge challenge of processing UI claims resulting from the economic downturn. The emergency administrative funding is divided into two $500 million tranches, which are intended to help fill a major gap in federal support that has long plagued the UI system.

The new law also provides critical incentives to expand access to UI, which requires action in many states. The paper describes the law and the federal implementing guidance, the key next steps for state policymakers, and a number of positive state reforms recommended by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for worker advocates and state policymakers to prioritize.

State responses

Maurice Emsellem of NELP has prepared a table tracking the efforts of the states in responding to this crisis. The highlights include:

  • Over the past two weeks, at least 19 states have taken action to waive the one-week waiting period that all but eight states (GA, IA, MD, MI, NV, NJ, VT, WY) impose for most workers to collect UI benefits.
  • Especially comprehensive executive orders were issued by governors in Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, and other states, covering the waiting week work search waivers, and other issues. For example, Louisiana and Ohio indicated that COVID-19 benefits would not be “charged” to the employer’s “experience rating,” and Michigan’s executive order improved the work-sharing program and required the state to provide 26 weeks of UI (rather than the 20 weeks provided under the state’s current law). At the governor’s direction, Vermont’s agency has ordered expedited processing of UI claims.
  • Massachusetts and Washington State have adopted emergency regulations, which include strong language clarifying the rights of workers to collect UI while in “standby” status and awaiting a determination to return to work from their employers, and several states (Maine, Maryland) and the District of Columbia passed emergency legislation.
  • Several states (including California and Washington State) have developed especially well-designed outreach material, flyers, and FAQs communicating, in clear and simple terms, workers’ rights to access UI and other benefits in response to COVID-19.
  • The governors of California, New York, and Washington State requested a “major disaster” declaration under the Stafford Act for their states, which was granted by the President (however, a determination is pending on whether Disaster Unemployment Assistance will be approved).
  • New Hampshire’s governor issued an executive order directing that “self-employed” people will be eligible for UI benefits for reasons related to COVID-19.

On March 12, 2020, the US Dep’t of Labor issued guidance clarifying what measures the states can immediately take to improve access to UI for workers who lose their jobs or are temporarily separated from work due to COVID-19 (the table provides a summary of the most helpful state provisions adopted as of March 24, 2020). NELP has also published a set of recommendations for state reform and an unemployment reform toolkit for state advocates.

As events and laws are changing on a daily basis, none of these documents can be considered comprehensive. But, as of March 24th, they show that several states have recognized the tremendous problems they face and the consequences of inaction at this moment.

Finally, eligibility requirements for all states prior to the pandemic are available here.

Britain

Britain plans on paying 80% of wages to laid-off workers. But, implementation problems mean that benefits will likely NOT be paid out until the end of April.

Miscellaneous

NELP now has a specific page for its pandemic-related resources.

Finally, Joshua W. Mitchell has suggested one way to avoid the administrative bottlenecks in Britain: channel the benefits to workers through payroll processing companies.

Claims-filing FAQ

Jenn Bizzotto of Wisconsin Judicare has written the following FAQ that offers some excellent advice for those filing unemployment claims during this pandemic. Do not forget to also read through these filing tips.

Unemployment FAQs

Q: Can I apply for unemployment if my work hours were reduced or eliminated due to COVID-19?

A: In general, yes. However, for every week you claim you must still be physically able to work. So, if you are so sick with COVID-19—or any other serious illness—that you physically can’t work, you are not eligible to receive benefits for as long as you’re too sick to work.

Congress is currently debating emergency legislation that would offer paid sick leave. Unfortunately, nothing has been passed so far. In the absence of emergency legislation, employers in the U.S. are not required to provide paid sick leave to their employees.

Q: What if I’m sick but haven’t been tested, or am waiting for test results, for COVID-19?

A: If you have mild symptoms and could otherwise work, but your employer, your doctor, or a government agency has instructed you not to work, then you are still eligible for unemployment.

For example, Tom has a slight fever and a sore throat. He told his employer, a nursing home, that he has those symptoms. His boss told him not to come in, even though with his mild symptoms Tom is technically still capable of performing his job. His boss told him that it’s just too risky for him to do so because he might infect the nursing home residents. Because his employer told him not to come in, Tom is eligible to collect unemployment.

Q: What if my employer still wants me to come in for work but I don’t feel comfortable doing so due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

A: Unless you have a doctor’s note verifying that you have an illness or disability that prevents you from coming to work, you will not be eligible to collect unemployment if you do not continue working where work is available. In other words, you can’t self-quarantine and then collect unemployment; you must have a doctor’s note stating that it is medically necessary for you to miss work.

Q: What if I have an illness or disability that puts me at high risk for COVID-19 and my doctor has ordered me not to work?

A: If your doctor has confirmed in writing that you do have an illness or disability which prevents you from working, you may be eligible to collect unemployment. However, you still need to theoretically be “able” to work at some job, just not your current job.

For example, Juana has a doctor’s note verifying that she is immuno-compromised and that she should therefore be excused from work for the next three weeks. Juana currently works in a crowded factory. So long as she would be able to perform work of some kind—say as a delivery driver where she doesn’t need to work in close contact with others—she is eligible for unemployment.

Q: What if a family member gets sick and I need to care for them, but I can’t due to my current work schedule? If I quit my current job, will I be eligible for unemployment?

A: Maybe. First, you will need a doctor’s note verifying your family member’s illness or disability. Second, that family member must be a member of your immediate family. Third, you must first give your employer the opportunity to accommodate you. Finally, you must remain available to work full-time.

Consider Matt, who works in retail. His mom contracted pneumonia and needs Matt to care for her during the day. The store Matt works at is only open during the day, and his boss tells him they don’t have any evening or night work available for him. Because Matt is available for full-time work during second or third shift, he can quit his first-shift retail job and collect unemployment while he looks for a job with a schedule that allows him to care for his mother during the day.

Q: What if my doctor is too busy and isn’t able to see me or provide a doctor’s note in time for me to file my claim?

A: To be eligible, DWD is mandating that a doctor’s order, an employer, or a government agency specifically direct you by name to not report to work. If you can’t get something in writing, call your doctor’s office, explain the DWD requirement, and ask the doctor or nurse for a phone consultation and verbal order putting you off work until you can be seen.

Q: Am I eligible for unemployment if I quit my job because I no longer have childcare for my young children?

A: Probably not, although we don’t know yet how the DWD will be handling these situations.

Ordinarily, a worker is not eligible for unemployment if he quits his job to care for his minor children. This may be true even now that most schools have closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but the DWD hasn’t provided any guidance so we just don’t know for sure. An exception exists for a situation in which the worker is required to change shifts, and that shift change leaves him without childcare.

For example, Amy has a seven-year-old son who is in second grade. Last week, her son’s school closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Amy works 9 to 5 as a paralegal. She has no one to care for her son since he’s no longer in school, and quits her job. It’s unclear whether she’ll be eligible to collect unemployment given the current public health emergency. In normal times, she would not be eligible.

Alang works as a day-shift nurse. He has two three-year-olds. His employer, a hospital, required him to change to nights. Alang’s daughters currently go to daycare while he’s at work and daycare would not be available at night. So, rather than change to the night shift, Alang quit his job and plans to apply to other day-shift positions at nearby hospitals. He is eligible for unemployment.

Q: Am I still required to search for work every week? Does that change if I have COVID-19, or if I think I have COVID-19?

A: From March 12, 2020 until Governor Evers declares that the public emergency is over, all claimants are exempt from the work-search requirement. This means you do not need to perform four work search activities each week as you normally would be required to do.

Q: Does the waiting week still apply?

A: Yes. Wisconsin still has a one-week waiting period, so you will have to wait a week after filing your initial claim to begin receiving benefits.

Q: Do I still have to register with the Job Service?

A: Yes. All claimants must register with the Job Service of Wisconsin. This means that you must create and submit a résumé. If you need help creating a résumé, contact the Job Centers of Wisconsin.

Q: Are the Job Centers of Wisconsin still open?

A: Yes. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, so far the Job Centers of Wisconsin will remain open. Update: as of March 25th, the job centers are closed.

Q: I received a notice from the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) that I am required to attend a Job Re-employment Session (RES). Do I still have to comply, even though the governor has declared a public health emergency due to COVID-19?

A: Yes. You must still comply with the Re-Employment Session requirements. These sessions are now being conducted by phone, so you may not be required to go to the Job Center in person. Read the notice you received carefully, and if you have questions contact the DWD.

Q: Help! I’m really confused with all of these unemployment requirements, or I’ve received an initial determination that has found me ineligible to collect benefits. What should I do?

A: You may be eligible for free legal assistance. Call 211 and tell the operator that you’re looking for assistance with an unemployment claim.

These FAQs are also available as a PDF.

Update (26 March 2020): Added info about job centers being closed.