SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's unemployment claims skyrocketed last week after the state government took aggressive measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, closing restaurants to dine-in customers and limiting the size of gatherings.
There were 19,591 new unemployment claims from March 15-21; 37% of those claimants were from the food service industry, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
As some Utah counties move toward stay-at-home orders and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise, there's no telling how many Utahns may ultimately lose income as a result of the coronavirus. Here are some tips for navigating unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, courtesy of the Department of Workforce Services:
Q: Will the government stimulus package affect my unemployment eligibility?
A: Utah Department of Workforce Services spokeswoman Brooke Porter Coles says funds an individual receives from the stimulus package — $1,200 for most Americans — are not considered earned income and will not affect their unemployment eligibility.
Q: Who is eligible for unemployment insurance?
A: According to this guide from the Department of Workforce Services, eligibility for unemployment insurance is dependent upon a few basic criteria, including how long you've been working and how you left your job. Eligibility factors include:
- being connected to the workforce long enough (generally at least five quarters)
- being "able and available" to work; that is, actually capable of coming to work (and not showing COVID-19 symptoms)
- being laid off through "no fault of your own"
Specific to COVID-19, the department says employees are still eligible if they:
- were laid off temporarily, with the expectation of coming back
- are in quarantine, but not showing symptoms of COVID-19 and will return to work
- are "able and available," but can't go to work because the workplace itself has been quarantined
My staff and I are getting a lot of questions about who is eligible for unemployment benefits. This FAQ is a great place to start. https://t.co/qm9yeXTcPj#covid#unemployment#coronaviruspic.twitter.com/amKRj0J6Fd— Jon S. Pierpont (@JonSPierpont) March 26, 2020
Q: So people who actually contract COVID-19 are not eligible for unemployment?
A: The Department of Workforce Services says people who are not "able and available" should still file a claim. Porter Coles said eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis.
"We don't want them to weed themselves out and therefore miss benefits they may have been eligible for," she said. "We encourage any individual who has questions about their eligibility to apply and let us make that determination."
Q: What if my job plans to hire me back when they can?
A: These workers are considered "job attached," Brooke Powers said, and are still eligible for unemployment as long as they're not receiving paid leave or other payments from the employer. "I think it's also important to note that the majority of people who are applying for unemployment insurance right now are job attached, which is encouraging," Porter Coles said. "They will be able to hopefully return to those employers once things begin to return to normal, whenever that may be."
Q: What if my hours were reduced?
A: You may still be eligible for some assistance if you were previously full-time, depending on your earnings.
Q: I drive for Uber, and business is way down lately. Can I file for unemployment?
A: For the state's purposes, gig economy workers are considered self-employed and are not eligible for unemployment insurance, though they may be eligible for food stamps and other programs.
However, the New York Times reports that the just-passed stimulus package expands the list of people who would be eligible for benefits — so if COVID-19 has curbed your income in any way, now's the time to apply.
Q: Will I have work-search requirements attached to my benefits? How can I look for work during a pandemic?
A: The Utah Department of Workforce Services generally requires applicants to make four job contacts weekly; however, applicants may be granted a work search deferral at this time.
Q: How long will it take to be paid if I am eligible?
A: Processing unemployment payments generally takes about 14-21 days. Porter Coles said the department is doing its "very best, with the high demands we have right now, to still meet those expectations." The government's stimulus check (or direct deposit) for individuals is similarly expected to take up to three weeks.
Q: So how do I apply?
A: Porter Coles encourages unemployed Utahns to apply for benefits online at jobs.utah.gov/ui/home. "Not only does that help us to meet the needs, but it also helps them," Porter Coles said. "The less people we have to divert to answering the phone calls, the more people we can put on processing their claims and get people through that quicker, so they can begin seeing their benefit."