Localizing State Unemployment Benefit Claims

by April 24, 2020
Over the past month of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have lost their jobs or gone on furloughs, starring state unemployment benefits.
Photo of dollar bills by Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash.

The CARES Act extends unemployment benefits to self-employed workers for the first time, but many states are scrambling to keep up with demand from furloughed workers, laid-off workers, freelancers impacted by COVID-19, and others.  

In New York state, Governor Cuomo says the state’s unemployment website “collapsed” from the sudden surge in inquiries. (As of April 21, the state had a backlog of 4,305 applications.) In Florida, residents have filed over 1.5 million claims since mid-March but less than three percent (40,193) of those who’ve filed have received benefits as of April 20. 

Are locals trying to file for unemployment insurance (UI) facing similar delays? 

Here are some approaches to consider when localizing coverage of this timely topic.  

Interview locals applying for UI 

With millions of Americans out of work, it shouldn’t be hard to find locals seeking unemployment benefits. Are they able to apply online or on the phone? How long have they spent on hold trying to contact their state unemployment office (many people are prone to hyperbole so if they’re willing to send a call log screenshot, that could help verify)? When did they apply and how long have they waited for an answer? What are their doing for money in the interim? Burning through savings? Accumulating credit card debt? 

Include expert advice

Especially for readers who’ve never applied for UI, talk to experts about what they need to know. Keep in mind the unemployment is administered by each state, so the process varies depending on where you live. An employment lawyer in your state may be able to explain the process and offer strategies for applying. 

If the website crashes, can workers submit a claim by fax? Are they better off accessing the website during off hours? What should you do if your claim is denied and you believe you are entitled to benefits? 

Does your state require recipients to recertify for benefits each week? Do workers qualify if their hours were cut due to the pandemic? Can they collect UI while also receiving severance? How does it work for freelancers, who haven’t been eligible for UI in the past? How much will unemployment benefits cover and for how long? The maximum weekly benefit varies by state but Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation covers $600 per week on top of the amount in your state. 

While the topic of unemployment is complicated, it’s one that many readers will likely want to understand.