Skip to main content

How to File for Unemployment Insurance During the Coronavirus Pandemic


As the unemployment rate continues to rise due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are confronted with the reality of applying for unemployment insurance. The question is, how do you go about doing this?

The U.S. Department of Labor defines “unemployment insurance” as “a joint state-federal program that provides cash benefits to eligible workers.” Basically, these are cash payments to you by the government if you lose your job.

In order to receive unemployment insurance benefits or even to see if you qualify, you’ll need to file a claim with your state’s respective program. CareerOneStop has a terrific page with a drop-down menu listing every state and the individual websites to visit to learn more information on unemployment insurance. By way of example, here is a guideline for New York. Apply either by phone, 1-888-209-8124, or filing a claim online, In New York, applicants must file on a specific day based on the first letter of their last name. While phone line hours have been extended, it may be more streamlined to file online.

To apply for unemployment you’ll need to provide the following information:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your driver license or Motor Vehicle ID card number
  • Your mailing address
  • Your phone number
  • If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, your Alien Registration card number
  • Names and addresses of all your employers for the last 18 months, including those in other states
  • Employer Registration number or Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) of your most recent employer (can find that on your W-2 forms)
  • If you were a federal employee, copies of forms SF8 and SF50
  • For former military, your most recent separation form (DD 214)

Also, you shouldn’t expect to receive a check the next day. As the New York State Department of Labor explains, “it takes three to six weeks from the time you file your claim to when you receive your first payment, because we have to review and process your application for benefits.”

However, eligible participants “will receive any back weeks of benefits owed with your first payment.” During this waiting period, the government advises to “[c]omplete and return any questionnaires and return any phone calls you receive from the Department of Labor right away.”

Generally, to be eligible for unemployment insurance, you would need to meet certain criteria, including with respect to what you were earning and your hours. However, with Congress’ recent passing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, even if you don’t qualify for traditional unemployment insurance, you can still receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA. In other words, you can receive benefits because of a variety of alternative situations.

The Department of Labor explains that states are now free to amend their unemployment insurance criteria to reflect three new scenarios:

“(1) An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work; (2) An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and (3) An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.”

Under these guidelines, New York seems to have broadened the scope of assistance by declaring that you can qualify for PUA in a number of circumstances, including if you quit work because of the virus or if you are “affected” by COVID-19.

What can you receive if you do qualify for PUA? 1) Up to 39 weeks of unemployment insurance and 2) an additional $600 a week payable until July 31, 2020.

Bottom line: if you believe or want to know if you are eligible for unemployment insurance, then apply. Also, it is important to file for unemployment insurance within a week of losing a job so as not to lose any benefits.

[Image via Law&Crime Network]

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Jesse Cord Weber is a New York attorney. After graduating with a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Michigan, Jesse attended New York Law School (NYLS). During his time in NYLS, he served as a staff editor on the school’s Law Review and was recognized as a John Marshall Harlan Scholar affiliated with The Institute for Information Law and Policy. Jesse received Dean's List honors every semester and graduated cum laude . After passing the New York State Bar Exam, Jesse practiced in the intellectual property and litigation departments of Dentons (formerly Salans); the world’s largest law firm. He specialized in trademark and copyright prosecution and disputes for clients in the fashion & apparel, financial, entertainment, and technology industries, and was actively involved in several notable litigations, including the City of Detroit Chapter 9 bankruptcy, which was the largest municipal bankruptcy in United States history. Currently, he is a project manager and legal counsel for a consulting company. Jesse is admitted to practice in New York as well as the United States Southern and Eastern District Federal Courts. Jesse studies and analyzes high profile criminal and civil cases in the media. Aside from being a host on the Law and Crime Network, Jesse is also the legal correspondent for "Crime Watch Daily With Chris Hansen," a legal analyst on Fox News and HLN, and he co-hosts alongside his father "Always In Fashion" airing on 77 WABC Radio. Additionally, Jesse is a trained actor from The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and has appeared in commercials, independent films, and television shows.