How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits

As COVID-19 has still hindered so many people that had to leave their job, there are millions of American still without a work paycheck and should be claiming all the money they can from the government while being out of work.

Self-isolation and mandatory quarantine orders are becoming more commonplace. As businesses lose revenue due to a lack of consumer traffic, for many, this is translating to a sudden loss of employment.

It can be terrifying to lose your job so unexpectedly, especially under circumstances that are so far out of your control. One of the ways you can stay afloat during this time is by applying for unemployment benefits.

1. Check Your Eligibility

Since unemployment benefits are provided by state governments, the criteria for eligibility may slightly differ depending on where you live. To qualify for unemployment benefits in many states, for example, you must:

  • Be partially or totally unemployed
  • Not at fault for the circumstances that led to your unemployment
  • Physically able to work
  • Fully available and willing to accept work immediately
  • Actively searching for employment

You must also have earned enough money during what is known as the “base period” to establish a foundation for your claim. This means you must have worked for at least one full year before your claim and have earned enough in wages that the Employment Development Department (EDD) deems acceptable to justify your claim.

If you meet these criteria (most people do, so don’t worry!), you are eligible to apply for unemployment insurance benefits within the first week of your job loss or severely reduced hours. Note that if you’ve already filed a claim within the last year and did not exhaust your benefits, instead of opening a new claim, you will have to reopen the existing one.

2. Gather the Appropriate Information for Your Claim

You can choose to file for unemployment using any of the following methods:

  • Online
  • Phone
  • Fax
  • Mail

Of course, online will be the fastest and most ideal. If you choose to apply through either fax or mail, you will still need to download the proper documentation from your state unemployment website. When preparing to file for insurance, you will need to have the following documentation ready:

  • Previous employer information:
    • Company Name
    • Supervisor Name
    • Company Address (mailing and physical addresses, if different)
    • Company Phone Number
  • Final date of employment
  • Reason for loss of employment
  • Gross wages in the last week of your employment
  • All previous employers within the preceding 18 months (including the same information listed above, for each, along with hours worked and pay rate)
  • Citizenship status

There are additional pieces of documentation for those that may be former federal employees and for former military service members. Please see your state’s requirements if either applies to you.

3. File Your Claim

Now that you have all your documentation ready and meet eligibility requirements, you are ready to file. Note that, depending on your circumstances and method of filing, you may be required to create an account on your state’s EDD site.

In California, for example, applicants need to create a CalJOBS account within 21 days of receiving their DE 8405 form (Notice of Requirement to Register for Work). Neglecting to do so can either severely delay your benefits or even disqualify you.

No matter what method you choose, either the online or printed application or phone representative will walk you through the process and how to input your required documentation for your claim. Be sure to check the business hours of your state’s EDD department, even for online applications.

Losing your job so suddenly is a jarring experience. With nearly 80% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, hardly anyone was prepared for the economic catastrophe COVID-19 has created. If you have found yourself unexpectedly unemployed, filing for unemployment insurance benefits may be the key to getting you through this difficult time.