Coronavirus: How do you file for unemployment insurance, other help?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many businesses to close their doors and layoff their employees.

Between March 8 and March 14, 281,000 people filed for unemployment insurance, according to the Department of Labor. If you have been laid off from your job, there is some help available.

Unemployment insurance is a program that provides money to people who have lost their job through no fault of their own. Each state administers its own program following federal guidelines.

If you find yourself being laid off from your job, here is what you need to do to apply for unemployment benefits.

Who is eligible to apply for unemployment insurance?

The state you live in determines who is eligible for unemployment insurance, how much you can get and for how long your benefits will last.

Because of the COVID-19 virus, the Department of Labor has reworked some of the regulations states follow to approve requests for unemployment insurance.

From the Labor Department: The federal government is allowing new options for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits where:

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

In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.

How do I file?

You can apply online or by phone in most cases. To find out what your state requires, go to this map and select your state. You will be redirected to a website that will give you information about your state’s unemployment program.

What will I need to apply?

Requirements vary by state, but here is likely what you will need to fill out the application:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Your driver’s license or motor vehicle ID card number (if you have one).
  • Your complete mailing address, including street, city, state, and zip code.
  • A telephone number where you can be contacted during business hours.
  • If you are not a U.S. Citizen, your Alien Registration card number (if you have a card).
  • The full company names and addresses of all employers that you worked for in the last two years, including employers located in another state.
  • The Employer Registration number or Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) of your most recent employer (if you have either).
  • If you were a federal employee, copies of forms SF8 and SF50 if you had federal employment within the last 18 months.
  • If you’re a service or ex-service member claiming benefits based on your military service, a copy of your most recent separation form DD 214.
  • If you’re unable to print a confirmation of your unemployment claim, have a pen and paper available to write down your claim information.
  • For states allowing (or requiring) direct deposit of your weekly unemployment benefits into your bank account, you must have a check available in order to enter your bank routing and checking account numbers.
  • In states using debit cards to provide unemployment benefits, you’ll receive information on the card, how it works, and when you will receive it.

How long do the benefits last?

Again, states determine how long they pay unemployment benefits. Some states provide extended benefits when there’s high unemployment. Extended unemployment insurance benefits last for 13 weeks. You can apply for extended benefits only once you’ve run out of regular benefits. Check with your state; not everyone qualifies.

How much will you get?

Each state, using the applicant’s prior earnings, uses its own formula to calculate benefits.

For more help offers these resources if you need more help:

Educational Help

Federal agencies offer many unemployment education and training programs. They are generally free or low cost to the unemployed.

Self-Employment Help

Self-employment assistance programs help unemployed workers start their own small businesses. Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon offer this program.

Continuation of Health Coverage: COBRA

What is COBRA?

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives workers and their families the right to choose to continue group health coverage provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time.


There are three basic requirements that must be met for you to be entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage:

Your group health plan must be covered by COBRA

A qualifying event must occur (for example, voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in the hours worked, a transition between jobs, death, or divorce)

You must be a qualified beneficiary for that event

If you are entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage, you must be given an election period of at least 60 days to choose whether or not to elect continuation coverage.

How to Get COBRA

Under COBRA, group health plans must provide covered employees and their families with a notice explaining their COBRA rights. Plans must also have rules for how COBRA continuation coverage is offered, how qualified beneficiaries may elect continuation coverage, and when it can be terminated.

For more COBRA information, see An Employee's Guide to Health Benefits under COBRA.

Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance

If you can't work because you get sick or injured, disability insurance will pay part of your income. You may be able to get insurance through your employer. You can also buy your own policy.

Types of Disability Policies

There are two types of disability policies.

  • Short-term policies may pay for up to two years. Most last for a few months to a year.
  • Long-term policies may pay benefits for a few years or until the disability ends.

Federal Disability Programs

Two Social Security Administration programs pay benefits to people with disabilities. Learn about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI).

Workers' Compensation

Workers' compensation laws protect employees who get hurt on the job or sick from it. The laws establish workers’ comp, a form of insurance that employers pay for. These laws vary from state to state and for federal employees.

Benefits Provided by Workers' Compensation

In general, workers’ comp provides:

  • Coverage for workers’ medical expenses
  • Compensation for lost wages while a worker is out recovering 
  • Benefits for dependents of workers who died from job-related hazards
  • Private Sector and State or Local Government Employees

If you get hurt working for a private company or state or local government, seek help through your state. Your state workers' compensation program can help you file a claim. If your claim is denied, you can appeal.

Longshoremen, Harbor Workers, Coal Miners, and Federal Employees

Federal laws protect longshoremen, harbor workers, coal miners, and federal employees. Contact the workers' compensation program that applies to you for help filing a claim.

Wrongful Discharge/Termination of Employment

If you feel that you have been wrongfully fired from a job or let go from an employment situation, you may wish to learn more about your state's wrongful discharge laws.

Wrongful termination or wrongful discharge laws vary from state to state.

Some states are "employment-at-will" states, which means that if there is no employment contract (or collective bargaining agreement), an employer can let an employee go for any reason, or no reason, with or without notice, as long as the discharge does not violate a law.

If you feel you have been wrongfully discharged or terminated from employment, you may:

  • Contact your State Labor Office for more information on wrongful termination laws in your state.
  • Seek legal counsel if your employer terminated you for any reason not covered under state or federal law.

Welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federally funded, state-run benefits program. Also known as welfare, TANF helps families achieve independence after experiencing temporary difficulties.

What help is available through TANF?

Recipients may qualify for help with:

  • Food
  • Housing
  • Home energy
  • Child care
  • Job training

Each state runs its TANF program differently and has a different name.

Some tribal groups operate their own TANF programs.

Am I eligible for TANF?

Each state or tribal territory decides who is eligible for financial help, services, or other benefits.

You must be a resident of the state where you are applying.

How do I apply for TANF?

To sign-up for temporary benefits, you can:

Apply at your local or county social services agency, or

Call your state TANF office for your local contact information.

Is there a waiting period to get a check?

Yes, most states have a waiting period that is equivalent to one full week of unemployment benefits before you receive payments

How will you get funds?

Depending on your state, unemployment benefits are paid via check, debit card or direct deposit. Payments are generally made weekly or bi-weekly.

Do I pay taxes on the check?

The Internal Revenue Service counts unemployment insurance benefits as income. State and federal income tax can be withheld from your check.

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