Out of Work? Here Are Programs That Might Be Able to Help

If you were pushed out of work due to coronavirus, these programs can help provide relief

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Many Americans are out of work due to the coronavirus. Almost 10 million workers have filed for unemployment in a 2-week span.

Whether you’re sick, caring for a family member, or your place of employment is closed due to a shutdown, we know that you still have bills to pay during this difficult time. Here are the options available to subsidize your income while you’re out of work.

Disability insurance

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or you have been placed on medical quarantine due to an exposure, you are unable to work. In this case, you may be eligible for disability insurance benefits.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Employees in 5 states — California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island — may be eligible for short- and long-term disability payments under their state laws
  • If you live outside of those 5 states, short- and long-term disability insurance is provided by employers through private insurers. You can only access this benefit if you were previously enrolled in a disability insurance program.
  • It usually covers 60-70% of your salary for a pre-defined period of time.
  • Contact your HR representative for information on how to apply for disability insurance benefits.

Paid Family Leave

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act has allowed eligible employees of covered businesses to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons since 1993. In response to the global coronavirus pandemic, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that made some COVID-19-specific changes to FMLA. It includes a section called The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA), which expands the reasons that employees can take leave, and requires employers to pay some workers for some of this leave.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The EFMLEA went into effect April 1, and lasts through December 31, 2020
  • If you work for a business with 50 or more employees, but fewer than 500 employees, you will be allowed to take leave for a “qualifying need related to a public health emergency”
  • This includes caring for a child (including biological, adopted, foster, stepchild, legal ward, and other in loco parentis) because the child’s school or childcare provider is unavailable due to a coronavirus shutdown
  • You must be unable to work or telework
  • To qualify for benefits, you must have been employed with the company for at least 30 days. (This is different from the previous requirement of having been employed for 12 months with your current employer)
  • The first 10 days of your leave may be unpaid
  • After 10 days, employers must pay eligible workers no less than two-thirds their regular rate of pay for hours they would have normally worked
  • You can receive up to 10 additional weeks of paid leave
  • Pay is up to a maximum of $200 per day or $10,000 total
  • If you work for a small business with 25 or fewer employees, your job might not be protected under FMLA
  • If you work for a small business with fewer than 50 employees, your employer can apply for an exemption from the Secretary of Labor

Unemployment insurance

If you have lost your job through no fault of your own, or even had your hours reduced to part-time, you may be eligible for benefits under Unemployment Insurance (UI).

Here’s what you need to know:

  • You must be unemployed or working part-time through no fault of your own. This includes being laid off due to COVID-19 shutdowns and business closures
  • You must be willing and able to work
  • You must meet certain requirements for time worked and wages earned during a set period of time called the “base period.” These requirements vary by state.
  • You must file your UI claim against the state in which you have worked for the base period. Here is a list of phone numbers for state unemployment claims offices.
  • The federal government has issued new guidance to states in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that allows states to pay UI benefits to workers for additional reasons including:
    • Your employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing you from coming to work
    • You have been quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over
    • You have left employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member
    • Federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19

Additionally, under the new Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, unemployment benefits have been expanded to those typically not eligible, such as gig workers,  independent contractors, those who are self-employed, and those who do have enough work history to meet eligibility requirements.

Here’s what you need to know about unemployment under the CARES Act:

  • Workers who are unemployed or cannot work due to COVID-19 are eligible to receive $600 a week from the federal government
  • The federal provision provides 13 extra weeks of benefits
  • In total, workers can qualify for up to 39 weeks of unemployment  (26 weeks under state government and 13 weeks by federal government)

Paid Sick Leave

Even if your employer does not offer paid sick leave, you may be eligible for this benefit under a new federal law. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, in effect April 1 through December 31, 2020, contains significant paid sick leave provisions for employees of small businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Under this law, you are eligible for paid sick leave if you are an employee of a small or mid-size business with fewer than 500 employees
  • To be eligible, you must have been employed for at least 30 days prior to taking the leave
  • If you are sick, quarantined, or attempting to get preventive care or a diagnosis for the coronavirus, you are eligible for two weeks of paid leave. This same 2-week pay provision applies to workers providing care for a family member to whom these conditions apply
  • If you need to take leave to care for a child because their school or child care facility is closed, and you are unable to telework, you are eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave
  • If you take the 2 weeks of sick leave, your employer must pay you 100% of your normal salary, but this is capped at $511 a day
  • If you take the 12 weeks of paid leave, your employer must pay you 67% of your normal salary, but this is capped at $200 per day
  • Part-time workers are covered too, and must be paid based on the amount they typically earn in a 2-week period. They are subject to the same daily caps listed above
  • If you are self-employed, you can receive the benefit as a tax credit
  • Your employer may not require you to find a replacement for your shift, or to use other leave before paying you the leave under this law
  • Your employer can apply for an exemption if they can show that providing the leave would put them out of business
  • Certain essential businesses, like hospitals, nursing homes, and other emergency response organizations, are exempted from the law as well
  • The federal government will reimburse employers through a payroll tax credit within the calendar quarter

Worker’s compensation

What if you are a healthcare worker who was exposed to COVID-19 at work? If you are unable to do your usual job because of this exposure, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • In order to qualify for worker’s compensation, your employer must carry worker’s comp insurance
  • These claims will most likely only apply to healthcare workers and others on the front lines of the pandemic
  • Your coronavirus-related illness or exposure must be work-related, and you have to be able to prove it. If there is only a chance that you were exposed at work, your claim will probably not be approved
  • Each state has their own deadlines for reporting worker’s comp illnesses and injuries. You must report your coronavirus exposure within that defined time period. Check with your state’s worker’s compensation board to find out your own state’s rules
  • If you do qualify for worker’s comp, you can receive wage replacement benefits, medical treatment, and vocational rehabilitation
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