How to Apply for Unemployment Insurance
Unemployment benefits have been stepped up dramatically by both the state and federal governments to put money in the pockets of workers laid off or furloughed by COVID-19-related closures. And those fund should reach people quicker than usual.
The first step for the thousands of people locally who find themselves out of work is to apply to the state online at www.uimn.org. But don’t delay—and don’t call—because more than 236,263 new and reactivated applications were filed between March 16 and 29, with more requests going online every day, according to the state.
So who is eligible for state unemployment insurance? Anyone who has been laid off, furloughed or has had their hours reduced. People on the fence about whether they qualify, should apply and let the state make that judgment, said Ashleigh Leitch, an employment attorney with Best & Flanagan in Minneapolis. Eligibility has been expanded to help out workers affected by COVID-19 closures. “Two months ago you may not have qualified, but you may now,” she said.
To meet this need, the unemployment office is trying to “expand capacity in the department,” she said. “We know people are hurting right now.”
The online process walks applicants through their situation, such as the number of reduced hours, whether they have more than one job and if they were laid off from one or both jobs. Also included are people who lost their jobs previous to the pandemic.
To speed up the process the state has implemented the following procedures:
People with Social Security numbers ending in 0, 1 or 2 are asked to file for unemployment benefits on Mondays;
Those with SSNs ending in 3, 4 or 5 are asked to file on Tuesdays;
Those with SSNs ending in 6, 7, 8 or 9 are asked to file on Wednesdays;
The agency will take applications from everybody on Thursdays or Friday.
“Typically there’s a waiting period of one week, but the governor’s executive order eliminated that waiting period,” Leitch said. Once approved, people can start receiving payments immediately, but it may still take time for the check to be mailed.
If possible, laid-off or furloughed employees should use up other forms of leave, such as sick days and vacation, first. “Unemployment benefits are designed to provide about 50 percent of your regular wages and paid leave or sick leave typically provide more income if they are available,” the state’s website advises. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul requires paid sick and safe leave for employees.
Unemployment benefits usually are capped at $740 per week, and last for 26 weeks if an individual is fully unemployed each week. However, according to Hospitality MN, the governor announced a longer pay period and higher payments (see article on page 19). Servers will be paid on their salaries and not on the tips they received.
Previously employees receiving unemployment benefits were required to actively look for work, but for COVID-19 layoffs the assumption is that workers will want to return to their previous places of employment. Laid-off employees need to stay in communication with their workplace.
While furlough and laid off are basically interchangeable terms, there are some nuances, Leitch said. If an employee has been furloughed and applies for unemployment, they are still an employee, but there’s not enough work to go around, she said. But for the employer, that means an easier time getting everyone back to work because they don’t have to be rehired. But that doesn’t mean the furloughed employee can’t find work elsewhere if they want the relationship to end.
In addition to the state, the federal government has passed legislation to provide for laid-off employees as well. “We know we have this federal (aid coming), but we’re waiting to see how the state government will implement it,” Leitch said. The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) will distribute the payments and how and when has not yet been updated on their website (at presstime).
There’s good news in this for employers as well: Typically when an employer has several unemployment claims, they have to pay more into the system via taxes, but the governor has said that will not apply to COVID-19 situations.
Because this is confusing for both employees and employers, Leitch encourages employers to reach out to their attorneys for advice on how to apply for loans and assistance to help them make payroll during this pandemic. There are resources available, such as the federal PPP program, and expert advice from professionals dealing with all the nuances of the help is especially valuable right now.