Unemployment Adjudication Issue Reddit
Questions and Answers
Preparing For and Going to Your Hearing
Questions and Answers
If I am denied unemployment benefits, can I appeal?
Yes. After you have filed a claim and provided information to the Employment Security Department (ESD) you will receive a written notice by mail that will allow or deny you unemployment benefits. This letter is called a Determination Notice. If you are denied benefits, you have a right to appeal. If you are allowed benefits, your former employer has the same right to appeal. If either you or your employer appeals, you will have a hearing with an administrative law judge.
How do I file an appeal?
You have thirty days from the date of the determination to send in an appeal, the due date is on the letter. All you need to do is write a letter stating: “I want to appeal the denial of unemployment benefits because I disagree with the decision. I want a hearing.” You must include your name, address, phone number, and social security number. Send the letter to the address on the determination or fax it to the ESD at 1-800-301-1795. Make sure you sign the letter and keep a copy of what you send. You may also be able to file an appeal online by logging into eServices on the Employment Security Department’s website.
Should I continue to file for unemployment benefits while I appeal?
Yes. If you decide you are going to appeal the decision, you should continue to file your weekly claims. If you win at your hearing, you will only receive benefits for the weeks you filed and are otherwise eligible.
To collect benefits, you must be able to work, available for work, and actively seeking work for each week that you file. Make sure you accurately report information to the ESD when you file your claim each week, and keep a record of your job searches.
What happens after I file an appeal?
After you have sent in your appeal you will receive a notice of the date and time of your hearing from the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). The OAH is an independent state agency that provides a judge to resolve disputes between people and state agencies. You should receive the notice of your hearing date about three weeks after you file your appeal. Make every attempt to rearrange your schedule so you can attend the hearing. If you cannot do so, call the OAH listed on the notice and ask to reschedule. Explain why you need to postpone your hearing. Do not assume your hearing was postponed when you made a request. Be sure to get a clear confirmation from the hearing office that the hearing was postponed. Remember, if you miss your hearing, the OAH will enter a default order and dismiss your case.
I was allowed benefits but my employer is appealing. Why?
Employers pay taxes into the unemployment system. These taxes generally increase if they have former employees on unemployment. Employers attempt to avoid this higher tax by appealing your benefits.
Preparing For Your Hearing
Your hearing is the only chance you will have to tell your side of the story and once it is over you will typically not be able to submit any more information to the judge. It is important to be prepared.
Understand the law:
Generally you will not receive benefits if the judge decides that you quit your job without a good reason, known as “good cause.” If you were fired, you will not receive benefits if the judge decides what you did is “misconduct.”
1. If you quit your job…
The law does allow benefits in situations where an employee has “good cause” to quit. These reasons can be found in RCW 50.20.050. HOWEVER, Washington law only recognizes 12 specific “good cause” reasons to quit, and what might seem like a good cause to you may not be a good cause to quit under the law. If you quit your job you will need to convince the judge that you quit for one of the 12 good cause reasons listed below:
You were offered and accepted other work: You must have been offered the job by someone with authority, have a definitive start date, and work at your old job as long as possible.
You or an immediate family member became disabled or sick and that kept you from working: It is important to show that you took every possible step to keep your job including notifying your employer of your issue, asking for an accommodation or a leave of absence, and asking for work once you were able to work again. Sometimes a doctor’s note advising you to quit can be helpful to demonstrate you quit for a medical reason. Also, be aware that you may be denied benefits if you are not able to work, so you will need to show that you are able to work, but you weren’t able to do the job you left.
You had to quit because your spouse or registered domestic partner had to relocate for their job: The transfer has to be to an area outside of where you currently reside, and you have to have stayed at your job as long as you reasonably could before moving.
You had to protect yourself or a member of your immediate family from domestic violence or stalking: Some people need to quit their job because their abuser knows where they work or they need to protect a family member from further abuse.
Your usual compensation from your job is permanently reduced by at least 25%: This generally does not include commissioned employees. If you worked under the reduced pay, a judge may find that you accepted the changes. You should be prepared to show the reduction with pay stubs, bank deposits, or some other form of documentation.
Your usual hours were permanently reduced by 25%: As above, you should be prepared to show this reduction with documentation.
Your worksite changed and it made commuting difficult: The change must have made the length or difficulty of your commute much more than your original commute AND the commute must be more than is usual for people who work in your line of work and who work in your area.
Your worksite became unsafe: You must have reported the safety issues to your employer and they must have failed to do anything about it within a reasonable amount of time.
There were illegal activities at your worksite: You must have reported these activities to your employer and they must have failed to do anything about it within a reasonable amount of time. Illegal things may include:
You were not being paid your correct wages. Your employer was not paying you at all; they were not paying you minimum wage; or they were not paying you for overtime.
You were not being allowed your legal breaks.
Your employer violated safety codes or regulations.
Your employer illegally discriminated against you or employees in general.
Your work changed and it violated your religious beliefs or sincere moral beliefs: Explain to the judge how this change violated your beliefs or morals. Violation of religious beliefs could include your employer forcing you to work on a holy day, not allowing you to use your break time for prayer, or adopting a policy that directly conflicts with one of your religion’s beliefs. Violation of moral beliefs could include your employer forcing you to do things that would cheat a customer, or other things that you think are unethical or would violate your religion.
You quit to enter an approved apprentice program: The program must be approved by the Washington State Apprenticeship Training Council.
You worked both a full-time and a part-time job,you quit the part-time job, and later lost the full-time job: Before you quit the part-time job, you must not have known that you would be let go from the full-time job.
If you quit because of medical reasons, safety hazards, or illegal activities, you also have to prove that you took reasonable steps to keep your job before you quit. This could include informing the employer of a safety hazard and giving them time to fix it, informing the employer that you aren’t getting paid correctly and allowing them time to fix the problem, or informing the employer that you are having medical issues and need some assistance from them to help you keep your job. The law recognizes that there are some situations where doing these things would be futile and will excuse you from not taking these steps, but the more attempts to work with your employer you can show, the better your case will be.
2. If you were fired from your job…
If you were fired, your employer has the burden of showing that the reason you were fired was misconduct. The law, as seen in RCW 50.04.494, describes misconduct as including, but not limited to:
Willful or wanton disregard of the interests of the employer or a fellow employee
Deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior the employer has the right to expect of you
Carelessness or negligence that causes or would likely cause serious bodily harm to the employer or another employee
Careless or negligence of such a degree or recurrence that shows an intentional or substantial disregard of the employer’s interest
Examples of what IS NOT misconduct:
If you weren’t able to do the job to the employer’s satisfaction and you tried your best, that won’t be considered misconduct.
If you made honest mistakes, that generally won’t be considered misconduct.
Examples of what IS misconduct:
Insubordination. If you refuse to do something that the employer asks you to do and what they asked you to do was reasonable, you could be denied benefits because you were insubordinate.
Repeated unexcused tardiness or absences. If you continue to be late or miss work without a good reason after your employer has warned you about your behavior, that could be considered misconduct.
You continue to violate an employer’s rules after being warned.
You deliberately engaged in violence or fought with someone on the job.
You stole from your employer or were dishonest.
Now that I know the law, how do I develop my case?
Before the hearing, you will need to figure out how to explain to the judge why you either quit for one of the 12 good cause reasons, or why you were not fired for misconduct.
If you quit:
Think about and write down all the reasons you quit. Where and how do they fit in with the good cause reasons? How will you explain this to the judge?
Are there any other reasons you quit that aren’t considered good cause? How will you explain that one of the good cause reasons was the real or main reason you quit?
What will your employer say about why you quit? How will they argue that what they did was reasonable or that you did not quit for good cause? How will you explain to the judge that this is not what happened?
If you were fired:
Think about and write down exactly what led up to you being fired and the final incident that led to your being fired was.
Did you know that what you did was wrong? Did you have a copy of the employer’s rules? Did you have a chance to read them? Did the employer tell you that you were doing something wrong?
Did your employer give you a chance to fix what was wrong? Did they ask you for an explanation?
Did your actions cause harm to the employer?
How is the employer going to argue that what you did is misconduct? How will they prove it?
Many people go into hearings with a written list of things they want to tell the judge, just to make sure they don’t forget something. Some people even practice explaining their story to family or friends because they know they may be nervous during the hearing. Whatever you can do to be organized and present your case in a clear, concise way will be helpful during your hearing.
What if I have documents or other evidence that may help me with my case?
You can submit additional documents including paper documents, recordings, or video for your hearing. You must send a copy to all parties. Send the judge’s copies to the contact information for the OAH given on your hearing notice and send your employer’s copies to the address on the notice. If you are submitting written statements from other people about what they saw or heard, consider asking these people if they can attend the hearing. In-person testimony of firsthand knowledge is always stronger than a written statement.
What if I know people who can help me by testifying at the hearing?
If you have people who directly saw or heard things on the job that relate to your case, you can request that they attend the hearing. These people should have actual knowledge of what happened because they saw or heard the incident. It usually isn’t helpful to have witnesses who can only testify that you are a good person because that’s not the point of the hearing. Also remember that your former employer will get to ask witnesses questions as well. It is your responsibility to make sure they call into the hearing; tell them the date and time of the hearing and give them the call in instructions.
What if I don’t speak English or am hearing or speech impaired?
Contact the OAH on your Hearing Notice immediately and request an interpreter. An interpreter will be provided free of charge. You cannot use family members or friends as an interpreter in your hearing. Hearings are usually held by telephone; however, a judge may permit an in-person hearing if a disability or other circumstances would make it difficult for the hearing to be held over the telephone.
What happens at the unemployment hearing?
How do I call in to the hearing:
To call in, follow the instructions given on the Hearing Notice. If you use a cell phone, make sure it is fully charged and you have good reception. If you do not have access to a phone, you may arrange to use a telephone at your local ESD WorkSource office, but make sure to do this before your hearing.
Who will be at the hearing from my former employer?
Your employer may select any number of people to be present for their side. Your former boss may be there. There may be a representative from Human Resources as well. Your employer may also have an outside representative there for them – either an attorney, or some other hired representative. Try not to be intimidated if the employer sends an attorney or other representative; the judge has a responsibility to ensure that your side of the story is heard and that you get a fair hearing.
You will be sworn in:
The judge will ask everyone to affirm or swear to tell the truth.
Everyone will go over the documents to be used at the hearing:
Make sure you have all the paperwork that came from ESD or the employer, plus any documents you sent in to be used at the hearing. Everyone will go over what they have to make sure nobody is missing any documents. If you don’t have a document, let the judge know. If your former employer tries to bring in documents at this point, you have a right to object to them because you didn’t have a chance to look at them before the hearing. All you have to do is tell the judge you object to these documents being used as exhibits because they were not submitted before the hearing. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide whether or not to allow the documents to be used in the hearing.
Who testifies first?
Generally if you quit your job, you will testify first because you have to show that you had good cause to quit. If you were fired, your employer will go first because they have to show that you committed misconduct.
When you testify:
The judge will start by asking you questions. They may begin with easy questions about your job, like what you did, how long you worked there, and your rate of pay. The judge could also begin by immediately asking about why you quit or were fired. The judge could also begin with questions about your job search. Whatever the judge asks you, tell the truth and remember to answer the question the judge asks you. If you don’t understand the questions, just say so and the judge will try to rephrase the question.
After the judge asks you questions, your former employer or their representative can ask you questions. This may be referred to as “cross-examination.” This is the employer’s opportunity to try to make your case seem less believable, so be prepared for hard questions. Try not to be intimidated if your employer’s representative seems like they’re being mean or rude, just answer their questions the best you can.
If you think that the employer or their representative wasn’t fair in their questions and made your story sound untrue, you can ask the judge if you can clarify what you said.
When your employer testifies:
The process is generally the opposite of the above. The judge may ask them questions directly if they do not have a representative, or the representative may ask the employer questions. If you disagree with what the employer says, do not interrupt, you will have a chance to ask the employer about it later if you want to.
After the employer finishes testifying, you will have the opportunity to ask them questions or “cross-examine” them. You are not required to question your employer. You can ask the judge to just give statements in response instead, or in addition, to questioning your employer.
Cross-examination can be tricky because you may accidentally give your former employer an opportunity to make their case better. Because of this, attorneys often say “do not to ask a question in cross-examination that you do not know the answer to.” Keep this in mind as you are thinking about what to ask your former employer. Here are some common situation, and some thoughts on how to handle them:
You think (or know) that the employer or their witness is lying: People rarely admit to lying unless they are clearly “caught” so unless you have a definite way of showing that your employer is lying, it is probably best to leave the lie alone and focus on persuading the judge that your version of what happened is correct. The judge will determine who appears to be telling the truth.
You think you know something that the employer is hiding, but do not have proof: The employer or their witness may not know what you are talking about, or even worse, you may be incorrect in your suspicion and the employer may answer in a way that makes your case worse.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t ask your employer any questions, but just remember that if you ask a question, it may open the door for the employer to make their case better. You may find that it is better to reinforce your side of the story in your closing argument.
The judge will also ask you about your job search:
To receive benefits you must be available for work, actively seeking work, and able to work. The ALJ will ask you questions to determine if you meet the requirements. Some of these questions may be confusing if you don’t know what the judge is trying to find out:
The judge may ask if you have reliable transportation: You do not have to have a car, but you need to have a way to get to work if you are offered a job. This could include taking the bus, biking, walking, or finding some other way to get to work.
The judge may ask if you have to take care of children or family members: The judge is trying to figure out if your family commitments will prevent you from taking a job. If you can find child care or alternate caretakers for your family members, tell that to the judge.
The judge may ask if you are attending school or other training: If you are, you may need to be willing to quit school if you are offered a job.
The judge may ask if you have any health problems that would keep you from working: If you cannot work at all, that may prevent you from getting benefits.
The judge may ask if you were out of town or sick during the time you filed for benefits: If you were, you may not be able to get benefits for the weeks you were not available.
The judge may ask about where you looked for work: Have your job search log with you so you can respond if the judge asks which places you applied for jobs.
You will have the opportunity to make a closing statement:
This is where you summarize all the facts that make your case and emphasize to the judge that you are eligible for benefits. If your former employer made your case look worse or mischaracterized the situation, reinforce your side of the story. Make your statement only as long as it needs to be and try to be as clear as possible with your argument.
During the hearing - how to object to inappropriate evidence:
Administrative hearings are much less formal than court hearings, but you can still object to certain things that that your employer or their witnesses say. While the standards for appropriate evidence sometimes have confusing legalistic names, they come from basic common sense.
Relevance: All evidence and testimony offered must have some relation to what the hearing is about. For example, if you quit your job because your hours were cut in half and your employer starts to bring up the fact that you were late a couple times last month, that probably has nothing to do with why you quit, and is irrelevant. You could say to the judge “Your Honor I don’t see how this relates to why I quit,” or you could just say that you object because of relevance.
Hearsay: Hearsay is testimony that is second hand. For example, if you were fired for supposedly stealing from the cash register and your employer brings a witness that can only testify that someone else told her that you stole, that is hearsay. The judge might find that your employer’s story is not reliable because they did not bring the person accusing you to the hearing. You can object to hearsay, but be aware that despite a preference for first-hand knowledge, judges will still allow hearsay to be heard. However, the judge cannot make a decision based solely on hearsay.
Asked and Answered: This just means that you’ve already been asked that question and provided an answer. Sometimes an employer will continue to ask you the same question over and over just to make a point they think will help them. You can just say that you’ve been asked that question and answered it already.
Other things that might happen at the hearing & general hearing tips:
The employer or their representative may say something that makes you angry or upset: It is very important for you to remain calm even if what is said is a lie or an insult. If someone is going to lose his or her temper, let it be your former employer. The judge will try to keep the hearing fair and calm.
Always be respectful to everyone at the hearing: Do not interrupt the judge, your former employer or the employer representative, or any witnesses. Be respectful of the judge. You can call the judge “Your Honor.”
Try to be clear and concise: The judges are generally on a tight schedule and anything you can do to keep the hearing running smoothly will be appreciated. Do not be surprised if a judge interrupts you or another participant if the testimony is rambling or unfocused. But if you feel like you are not being allowed to testify about something important, respectfully ask the judge if you can do so.
If you do not understand what is going on or what you are supposed to do next, ask the judge: If you’re feeling lost or confused, politely ask the judge for an explanation.
What happens after the hearing?
How long does it take to get a decision, and what do I do if I am denied again?
You should receive a decision, called an Initial Order, from the judge within a few weeks of the hearing. Call the hearing office if it has been more than two weeks and you have not received a decision. If you are denied, you have the opportunity to file a Petition for Review to the Commissioner. This appeal is a letter no more than five pages stating why you disagree with the judge’s decision. You must file this Petition within 30 days of the date of the judge’s decision. Instructions on where to send the Petition will be on your Initial Order.
If I win, can my employer appeal?
Yes. If they do, you will receive a copy of their appeal. You have 15 days to respond to their appeal. Your response letter should say that it is a Response to a Petition for Review and list your name, address, docket number of the decision and you should sign the Response. The Response cannot be longer than 5 pages. You should explain why the judge was right in granting you benefits. Instructions on where to send the Response will be included with the employer’s appeal.
What if I am denied and have an overpayment?
The Employment Security Department will notify you if you are overpaid. Try to arrange a payment plan with them to avoid being sent to a collections agency.
If you are denied benefits, you may be eligible for a waiver. Waivers are only considered when you are found to not be at fault for causing the overpayment, and are not possible if you were denied for misconduct. You can call the Employment Security Department at 360-486-5817 to request a waiver form.
This document was prepared by the Unemployment Law Project, Seattle, Washington. For more information, see www.unemploymentlawproject.org or call 888-441-9178.
Insured Unemployment Rate by State, 2007-20
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, existing unemployment insurance (UI) programs were unable to meet the extraordinary demand from workers abruptly displaced from their jobs. Programs authorized by Congress extended and expanded access to UI. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) expanded access to UI benefits for up to 39 weeks for those not eligible for regular UI (like the self-employed). Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) extended the number of weeks of benefits (by 13 weeks) that are available to regular UI recipients. Unemployment compensation programs support families who have lost employment, helping them to weather the economic crisis while promoting consumer spending more broadly.
In the US, the pandemic is surgingand the labor market remains weak. But come December 26, without Congressional action, the pandemic-related UI programs will end. This is not the only benefit cliff that unemployed workers face. Compounding challenges for displaced workers are the potential end (or “triggering off”) of Extended Benefits (EB). EB, which automatically extends the number of weeks of UI benefits when certain economic conditions are met, has already triggered off in 20 states and is in danger of triggering off soon in many more.
States are less likely to take actions to keep EB in place because of cost: after December 31, the 100 percent federal funding of EB enacted in the CARES Act will expire, and the federal share will revert to 50 percent. Indeed, several states are set to sunset EB after December 31. Unless Congress and state governments act quickly, millions of unemployed people will be abruptly left with no income support and millions of others will face an imminent expiration of benefits.
Extending our prior work, we look at a snapshot of UI claims data released on December 3 by the Department of Labor to determine the different ways in which workers would lose unemployment compensation in the coming weeks. We find that absent Congressional and state government action the situation will be dire at the end of this year:
- approximately 9.5 million will lose unemployment compensation on December 26 due to PUA’s expiration;
- approximately 500,000 will lose unemployment compensation on December 26 due to PEUC’s expiration because they live in a state where EB has triggered off;
- approximately 870,000 will lose unemployment compensation once they exhaust regular UI benefits because they live in a state where EB has triggered off;
- approximately 680,000 will lose unemployment compensation once they exhaust EB; and
- approximately 2.2 million will be in danger of losing unemployment compensation once they exhaust regular benefits because they live in a state where EB is triggered on for now but is likely to trigger off within several weeks.
All told, at the end of December (based on a snapshot of claims data), approximately 10 million workers will lose unemployment compensation immediately on December 26 and about 3.8 million additional workers will be in danger of losing their benefits within weeks. Insofar as many of those unemployed people face such outcomes because EB has triggered off or is expected to trigger off soon, state governments can take action to prevent the loss of benefits by changing the economic measure that determines whether EB triggers off. In addition, extending PUA and PEUC would prevent millions from losing benefits and requires Congressional action.
The Insured Unemployment Rate and UI Eligibility
State governments have some latitude to extend EB.[i] UI participants may collect additional weeks of benefits through EB when the state’s 13-week insured unemployment rate (IUR; the share of people collecting UI benefits among the eligible population within a state) is above 5 percent and is at least 120 percent of the average in the prior two years. In addition to that mandatory trigger, states may adopt an optional trigger based on its IUR: EB can trigger on it those states where the IUR is above 6 percent without a lookback requirement. The second optional measure is based on the state-wide unemployment rate (the total unemployment rate or TUR); states that adopt this optional trigger allow EB to turn on when the TUR is above 6.5 percent and is at least 10 percent higher than either of the prior two years.
Figure 1 is a data interactive that shows the 13-week average IURs for states (the mandatory EB trigger). The dotted line is at the 5 percent line (the mandatory EB trigger threshold). The interactive shows whether states have EB triggered on, including for those states that adopted the TUR trigger, as of November 29. In every state except for South Dakota, EB was triggered on for some part of 2020. In 30 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, EB is still on.
Click on a line or enter a state name into the search bar to highlight 2007-2020 13-week IUR rates by state. The color of the line for each state reflects whether and how EB is triggered as of November 29 according to the Department of Labor:
- Red: EB is off in the state (20 states). For six of those states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, and Tennessee), EB is off because the state only uses the mandatory IUR trigger but would instead be on if the state also adopted the TUR trigger.
- Orange: EB is on by the TUR trigger and would be off by the IUR trigger (4 states). Under current plans, at least three of those states will trigger off on December 31 when 100 percent federal funding sunsets.
- Yellow: EB is on by the IUR trigger with an IUR between 5 and 6.5 percent (12 states).
- Green: EB is on by the IUR trigger with an IUR above 6.5 percent (14 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands).
(13-Week Moving Average)
Source: US Department of Labor table ar539; authors' calculations. Note: Insured unemployment rates are the 13-week moving average of insured unemployment rates. The dashed line represents the 5 percent IUR threshold. In addition to crossing the 5 percent threshold, a state's IUR must be at least 120 percent of the average of the same period in the previous two years. Data are not seasonally adjusted; IURs are generally cyclical. Figure reflects data reported in the November 29, 2020 Trigger Notice (2020-46); these data are from the week of November 14, 2020.
States that have particularly elevated IURs in 2020 (green) also generally have higher IURs from 2007 to 2019. States that have lower IURs in 2020 (red) also generally have lower IURs. This reflects not only differential industrial and demographic mixes between states that make IURs higher, but also state policy regimes that make it more difficult to receive UI and stay on UI. That is, state policy can depress IURs deliberately and mechanically.
Counterintuitively, poor economic conditions in a state eventually depress IURs, leading to a triggering off of EB in states. An IUR is the share of those who are receiving regular UI divided by the number of people who are covered by the UI system. As one would expect, if a beneficiary gets a job and so stops receiving regular UI, the IUR falls. More surprisingly, when beneficiaries stay unemployed but transfer out of regular UI and into the EB system (or onto a different emergency extension such as PEUC), they are also no longer counted in the IUR calculation. As a result, an increase in long-term unemployment – a clear indication of a weak labor market – can result in a reduction in the IUR and make it more likely that EB triggers off.
Consequences of UI Expirations
As of December 3, 2020, Department of Labor data show that 20.7 million people are currently participating in or have recently filed an initial claim for one of four unemployment compensation programs:
- 9 million are participating in PUA as of the week ending November 14 and 600,000 have filed initial claims for PUA in the last two weeks of November. PUA is a new and temporary program that provides unemployment assistance to workers not eligible for UI (or whose benefits from regular UI and other programs lapse before 39 weeks).
- 2 million people are on regular UI and about 700,000 filed initial UI claims the week ending November 28.
- 6 million people are on PEUC, a new and temporary program which extends the number of weeks that a person on UI can receive benefits; and
- 700,000 people are on EB, the UI extension program-in-law that allows for additional weeks of benefits when economic conditions in a state are met and when UI and PEUC are exhausted.
For consistency with the official data, this analysis relies on Department of Labor data as reported in the weekly claims for December 3, both initial and continuing claims.[ii]Evidence suggests overreporting in those data, especially early in the pandemic. Due to delays in UI application processing, workers are often paid benefits retroactively, which can cause reporting issues; for example, if a worker only starts receiving benefits in their fifth week of unemployment, they are paid retroactively for the last four weeks and can show up in the Department of Labor’s data not as one person claiming five weeks of benefits, but as five separate claims. Such issues have been exacerbated by the logistical challenges stemming from standing up two new UI programs. Additionally, disinvestment in states’ UI computer systems have allowed cyberattacks to file fraudulent claims with state UI agencies. Those factors likely lead to overreporting in the number of unemployed people receiving UI benefits, particularly PUA. These reporting issues have lessened over time, as states worked through their backlog. While we employ the claims data as reported for this analysis, we concur with the GAO that the Department of Labor pursue reporting unique claims expeditiously.
The unemployment compensation program that an unemployed person is participating in (or applied for) and the state in which an unemployed person lives determines whether she will lose benefits immediately on December 26 and whether she will be able to transfer onto EB immediately, eventually, or not at all. We do not take into account possible inflows into these programs nor exhaustions or exits from the programs between when the data were reported on December 3 and the December 26 sunset date. Figure 2 walks through these determinations for the population on UI as of the UI claims notice released on December 3.
Based on this snapshot, approximately 10 million unemployed workers will lose benefits on December 26.
- PUA expiration: 9,477,058 (the total number of people the Department of Labor reports are receiving or have recently filed for PUA) workers will lose unemployment compensation immediately when PUA expires.
- PEUC expiration: 505,165 workers will lose unemployment compensation because of PEUC’s expiration and because they live in a state in which EB is triggered off.
There are 1.6 million unemployed workers who will lose unemployment compensation in the coming weeks because they will not be able to transfer onto EB or PUA when they exhaust their regular UI benefits or because they will exhaust their EB benefits.
- Exhaust UI and EB trigger off: 871,537 will lose unemployment compensation when they exhaust UI benefits because they live in a state in which EB is triggered off.
- Exhaust EB: 681,075 will lose unemployment compensation when they exhaust EB benefits. Some of those recipients would have been eligible for additional weeks of benefits through PUA.
Another 2.2 million unemployed workers are in danger of losing access to EB when they move off UI or are no longer eligible for PEUC come December 26.
- On UI or PEUC in a state with EB TUR trigger on: 683,256 are on UI or PEUC in a state where EB is triggered on only because the state has adopted the TUR trigger. Note that at least three of those states currently have plans to revert to the IUR trigger and thus trigger off EB after December 31.
- On UI or PEUC in a state with EB trigger on and IUR between 5 percent and 6.5 percent: 1,548,315 are on UI or PEUC in a state where EB is triggered on but the state has an IUR between 5 percent and 6.5 percent, close to the 5 percent threshold.
Finally, another 6.9 million unemployed workers are not imminently in danger of losing access to unemployment compensation because they live in a state in which the insured unemployment rate is currently above 6.5 percent. Among that group, 3.3 million will switch immediately to EB from PEUC on December 26 and 3.6 million will likely switch to EB if they exhaust UI before finding employment.[iii]
This winter, there are too many different ways for the unemployed to lose unemployment compensation. We predicted in August that EB triggers would lapse prematurely, dampening the stabilizing aspects of UI and denying additional weeks of benefits to those who have struggled to gain a toe-hold in a labor market still shaped by the pandemic. That prediction has started to come to pass. The confluence of expiring pandemic-related programs with EB triggers turning off well before the economy has recovered means that approximately 13.8 million unemployed workers, including the long-term unemployed, will lose sustaining unemployment compensation on December 26 or are in danger of losing compensation in the following weeks.
Eliminating UI benefits for millions of unemployed workers will likely cut deep into household consumption, which makes up roughly 70 percent of U.S. GDP. Since August, UI benefits have typically been about 50 percent of a recipient’s previous wage, providing significant support but still requiring a substantial cut in household spending. Moreover, the drop in consumer spending from the lapse in benefits threatens to derail the fragile economic recovery.
Eliminating unemployment compensation while the labor market is weak creates enormous economic pain for households and for the tenuous economic recovery. Moreover, because the labor market pain has not been borne equally across demographic groups, the lapsing of benefits would also not be equally felt. Employment among low-wage service workers has taken a disproportionately large hit in this crisis, and those jobs are disproportionately held by women and people of color. With those demographic group suffering greater unemployment, those groups will face greater pain from the lapse in benefits in coming weeks.
There are other downstream consequences to EB triggering off that further weaken the safety net and make it more difficult for low-wage workers during economic downturns. When EB is triggered on in a state, states may apply to the US Department of Agriculture for a waiver for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements, which bind on able-bodied adults without dependents. During the Great Recession the UI-system-related work requirement waivers provided the highest degree of waiver coverage during the sluggish recovery. Because EB triggered on so quickly in 2020 and has started to trigger off, many states will not have SNAP work requirement waiver eligibility based on EB when the nationwide work requirement suspension ends.
As described above, state governments have some latitude to extend EB as they have a choice among triggers that determine when EB turns off but are more likely to do so with substantial federal support. Four states are currently turned on by TUR that would be turned off if they had not adopted the optional trigger; six states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, and Tennessee) would have EB triggered on now if they had adopted the TUR trigger. But at least three of the states currently turned on by TUR will trigger off on December 31 because of state laws that tie the optional trigger to 100 percent federal funding. Although opting out of a trigger that would keep EB in place lowers state government UI costs, which may be a high priority for states right now given budget crises, it leaves millions of unemployed workers in a dire financial situation now and affects some SNAP participants later.
As federal policymakers consider additional fiscal support in response to the COVID pandemic, it is imperative that a robust unemployment compensation extension is a core component of any legislative package. The economy is still in a “big hole,” the economic recovery is weakening, and there are clear signs that the labor market has sustained structural damage. Allowing unemployment compensation to lapse – through the expiration of PUA, PEUC, and the 100% federal match of EB – threatens vulnerable workers and the fragile economic recovery.
Acknowledgments: The authors thank Elizabeth Pancotti, Kriston McIntosh, and Kristen Broady for fruitful conversations and helpful feedback as well as Jay Shambaugh and Jana Parsons for their work on earlier publications in this line of research. Becca Portman developed the data interactive, Lexi Contreras provided graphic design, and Jennifer Umanzor contributed research assistance.
[i] For additional details on EB triggers, please see Bauer, Edelberg, and Parsons (2020) and Chodorow-Reich and Coglianese (2019).
[ii] We take as the snapshot both initial and continuing claims as reported in the December 3, 2020 notice. PUA initial claims reported here were filed during the week ending November 28 and the week ending November 21; PUA continued claims are for the week ending November 14. For the numbers reported here, UI initial claims were filed during the week ending November 28 and insured unemployment for the week ending November 21. PEUC claims and EB claims were filed during the week ending November 14.
[iii] The analysis reported here looks only at the snapshot of claims reported on December 3. In their analysis, Elizabeth Pancotti and Andrew Stettner model out ongoing flows into and out of unemployment compensation programs to project the number of program participants on December 26 and find that more than 16 million workers will lose access to unemployment compensation by the end of 2020, through a combination of eligibility exhaustion and the benefit cliff. They also project out IURs and TURs to model where EB triggers will be on December 26 and December 31. While our estimates on the number of participants affected are converging as we get closer to these dates and claims data move toward their model, much of the daylight between our estimates reflect differences in approach.
In early December, Alex Branch’s car broke down. A 23-year-old former arcade employee in southern Virginia, Mr. Branch had been receiving unemployment benefits since he was laid off in March, and figured he would have no problem paying for the repairs. But when he checked his bank account, he was troubled to find that the payments had stopped.
He had failed to get useful information from his state's unemployment office before, so he turned to the one place he figured he could get an explanation: Reddit.
“I’m very confused and have no idea what to do,” Mr. Branch wrote on r/Unemployment, a Reddit forum whose popularity has skyrocketed during the pandemic.
The next day, another user commented on Mr. Branch’s post, using a common abbreviation for Extended Benefits, an emergency unemployment program. “Were you on EB? If so, EB was cut off Nov 21.”
Mr. Branch hadn’t realized he had been on Extended Benefits, which kicked in after he exhausted 26 weeks of regular unemployment plus 13 additional weeks granted in the March pandemic stimulus bill. Virginia stopped payments because the state’s unemployment rate had fallen under 5 percent, triggering an end to federal funding for the Extended Benefits program.
“I didn’t know about it,” he said in an interview. “That’s the biggest frustration that I had about it was the fact that I never received the email that it was going to be shut off.”
For many of the millions of Americans like Mr. Branch who lost jobs because of the coronavirus, the stress of being unemployed in a pandemic has been compounded by the difficulty of navigating disorganized and often antiquated state and federal unemployment systems. Information from overwhelmed state offices and websites is often confusing, and reaching an official who can answer questions nearly impossible.
Faced with a seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy between them and a financial lifeline, many have turned to what seems like the only place left to go for help — the internet.
As unemployment claims shot up early in the pandemic, so did posts on r/Unemployment, one of the many topic-based forums on the site known as subreddits. The subreddit once typically had fewer than 10 posts a day, but it quickly ballooned to nearly 1,000 posts a day in April and May. As the crisis wore on, posts and comments spiked in the weeks following changes to benefit programs. In January, nearly 10 months after the first lockdowns, the forum had one of its busiest weeks ever, driven by delays in payments and uncertainty around legislation signed late last year.
Number of posts per day on the r/Unemployment subreddit
3/27 Stimulus signed into law that
expanded unemployment benefits.
7/31 Additional $600 per
week in benefits from
stimulus bill expired.
8/8 Program announced
to give an extra $300 a
week for up to six weeks
to some unemployed.
Many states did not start
making the additional $300
payments until September.
12/27 New bill signed to
continue federal benefits,
but its last-minute nature
has caused delays in
12/26 Last day
were set to
Week of 1/10:
Over 5,500 posts on
47,000 comments from
3/27 Stimulus signed into law that
expanded unemployment benefits.
Mondays tend to be busier (though
not on holidays like Memorial Day).
8/8 Program announced to give an extra
$300 a week for up to six weeks to some
7/31 Additional $600 per week in
benefits from stimulus bill expired.
Many states did not start making the
additional $300 payments until September.
12/27 New bill signed to continue federal
benefits, but its last-minute nature has caused
delays in payments.
12/26 Last day of payments
from federal benefits that were
set to expire.
Week of 1/10:
Over 5,500 posts on r/Unemployment,
plus 47,000 comments from 8,000 people.
3/27 Stimulus signed into law that
expanded unemployment benefits.
Mondays tend to be busier
(though not on holidays like
8/8 Program announced
to give an extra $300 a
week for up to six weeks
to some unemployed.
7/31 Additional $600 per week in
benefits from stimulus bill expired.
12/26 Last day of
payments from federal
benefits that were set to
Many states did not start
making the additional $300
payments until September.
12/27 New bill signed to continue expanded
benefits, but its last-minute nature caused
delays in payments.
Week of 1/10:
Over 5,500 posts on r/Unemployment,
plus 47,000 comments from 8,000 people.
3/27 Stimulus signed into law that
expanded unemployment benefits.
7/31 Additional $600 per week in
benefits from stimulus bill expired.
8/8 Program announced to give
an extra $300 a week for up to six
weeks to some unemployed.
Many states did not start making the
additional $300 payments until
12/27 New bill signed to continue
federal benefits, but its last-minute
nature has caused delays in payments.
12/26 Last day of
federal benefits that
were set to expire.
Week of 1/10:
Over 5,500 posts on r/Unemployment,
plus 47,000 comments from 8,000
Note: Daily number of posts does not include comments. Posts that have since been removed or deleted are included.·Source: Reddit
As hiring stalls and the economy shows signs of slowing again, the continued popularity of r/Unemployment underscores how the system remains broken for so many people.
As of this week, roughly 70,000 people were subscribed to the forum. When asking a question, people must include the state they’re in, and are reminded to search for an answer before posting a new query. The moderators help keep the conversation on topic by removing posts that don’t meet the forum’s criteria. Much of the activity on r/Unemployment also happens in the comments of individual posts, where people answer questions, share information and tips, or simply commiserate.
According to this week's Labor Department report, over 20 million Americans were receiving some form of state or federal unemployment benefits, and more than one million filed new claims. That’s down from the peak of over 30 million over the summer, but it still represents a number that federal and state assistance programs that are outdated and cobbled together are still struggling to handle.
Weekly unemployment claims from people already receiving benefits, by program
Assistance: Benefits for
gig workers and the
Extra weeks for
those who have
Extra weeks for those who have
exhausted their regular benefits
Assistance: Benefits for
gig workers and the self-employed
Extra weeks for those who have
exhausted their regular benefits
Assistance: Benefits for gig
workers and the self-employed
Note: Continuing claims are not seasonally adjusted. Claims made by people newly applying for benefits (initial claims) are not included. Some retroactive claims were reported on the date they were paid, rather than the original week claimed.·Source: Labor Department
Unemployment insurance is typically funded and administered at the state level. But because of the pandemic, the federal stimulus package passed in March supplied funding for programs that expanded who could apply for unemployment and how long someone could receive benefits, as well as increased the amount people were receiving.
Almost a year later, different parts of the package have expired and been extended or altered at different times.
“It’s like studying ghosts,” Mr. Branch said of his attempts to figure out if he could restart payments under the latest legislation, which went into effect on Dec. 27. “It keeps changing and there’s no, there’s no 100 percent certain thing in it.”
Mr. Branch received his first payment under the extension on Thursday morning. It took weeks for Virginia to announce when payments would begin again for many people as officials slowly enacted the new regulations.
Traversing an overwhelmed system
Post after post on r/Unemployment conveys bureaucratic problems with endless variations: how to file a claim depending on your circumstances, what to do if you made a mistake on your claim, what different statuses on your claim might mean, how to navigate confusing and glitch-prone online portals and even how to speak to an actual person to get issues resolved.
April 2TexasGiven a phone number to call but it never goes through!!
I see this is a very common issue at the moment, as I have completed my application and got a new message, which just tells me to call a number because they have questions about my application. I have called 200 times now and it just beeps and hangs up every time. I am very very frustrated. Is there another number i can call?
Sept. 30MichiganBoy I tell ya! The Trickery with no treat, an it’s not even Halloween yet!
WTH! Is there hope? Is anybody else not getting through to unemployment once in the cue? Ive been in the cue 7 times this morning. I get past entering SS, pin, birthdate and her beautiful voice will tell me one time “two hours or more wait” blah, blah! As soon as she’s done saying that she says “due to please try again later” blah, blah! Then has me talk to my friend Tone, Apparently she doesn’t know that I haven’t been friends with him in a long time! So frustrated!
Jammed phone lines are something Mr. Branch has become particularly used to. His girlfriend was also laid off in March and soon went on unemployment. Months later she began receiving notices to repay $4,194 in benefits. In October, Mr. Branch called the Virginia employment commission to ask for an explanation. He said his phone logged 453 calls before anyone picked up.
(Mr. Branch’s girlfriend filed an appeal the first time she had been notified — which was shortly after she had returned to work in May. The appeal just moved into review at the end of last month.)
Fraud creating delays
Earlier in the pandemic, the deluge of unemployment claims and technical glitches slowed the processing of payments to a crawl. Now, some payments are also being delayed as states investigate claims for possible fraud or errors.
At the end of last year, California revealed that billions in benefits had been paid fraudulently, and subsequently halted payments to 1.4 million people because of fraud concerns. Other states have had similar issues, though at a smaller scale. For people who rely on these benefits to pay for necessities like rent or food, a delayed payment can feel like no payment.
Jan. 1CaliforniaBenefit Suspended Because “may be tied to fraudulent activity”
It seems a LOT of people are getting a message that their benefits have been temporarily suspended because it "may be tied to fraudulent activity."
I just saw this half an hour ago, about 30 minutes before 2021 kicked in.
I HAVE NOT COMMITTED FRAUD! My rent is due tomorrow, along with other bills! The state has SHUT DOWN businesses that employed me! I cannot find work! This is NOT MY FAULT!!!
May 19MassachusettsWeekly claim pending not being paid while an issue is resolved
So I have been approved for benefits and this week my claim says Status: Pending “This week is not being paid while an issue is being resolved.” I have no idea what this means and have been trying to look it up to see but cannot find anything anywhere about it saying this. I’m not sure what the problem is. Nothing has changed from prior weeks I was approved and paid. This is so frustrating.
Coming to help
Many people come to r/Unemployment to offer answers, not just find them.
Albert Peers, who had been working in a call center in San Diego until the pandemic, spends time every day trying to answer questions about California’s system. He lives alone and can’t easily return to work because he has a lowered immune system. After first visiting the site when he encountered a hitch in his own unemployment benefits, Mr. Peers, 56, was shocked by the number of people who had no idea what to do.
The thought that someone might go hungry or miss rent because they were simply stymied by the system was unacceptable to him. “At that point I just made a decision,” he said. “You know what, like a couple hours every day, because I just can’t turn away.”
Like others answering questions, Mr. Peers does not have any background in unemployment insurance or state government. Some on the forum work for state unemployment offices, but the majority of those offering tips and advice are other out-of-work people who have hard-earned experience with the system.
Despite the amount of help and information being offered every day, often the only suggestions to a question are simple, if frustrating: wait for payments to arrive, or keep calling an unemployment office until they pick up.
Looking for community
R/Unemployment isn’t the only place people turn to for help online. There are additional state-specific unemployment subreddits as well as dozens of Facebook groups dedicated to navigating the unemployment system. What keeps bringing so many thousands of people back to such forums is the sense of community people have found with others going through the same difficult situations.
Mandy Fellows posted there in April after she was laid off from a tour company in Hawaii. Left with only $300 left after paying rent, she was unable to file a claim because the state website continually crashed and phone lines were clogged. When she finally could submit her claim, she made an error on her application that held up the process further.
“I turned to Reddit to vent,” she said in an email. “I knew the chances were slim I’d find help there among people who were just as uninformed, lost and traumatized as I was.”
April 7HawaiiIs there an emotional support group for this? Seriously.
It's starting to get to me physically— the days weeks spent calling lines with no answers, countless failed attempts to log into my account. I've been exercising, meditating, feeding and watering myself, etc and it worked up until now. The sense hopelessness and frustration is crushing my chest. I have developed a sleep disorder, apparently.
I understand that our systems are overwhelmed, but the lack of communication, inaction, and my fear of not having a roof over my head or ability to feed myself is eating at me.
A post in late July from a user, just as a $600 extra benefit from the federal stimulus plan was about to expire, drew nearly 500 comments about how important that additional money was.
July 21be honest. Who here just enjoys getting paid a livable wage and be able to enjoy themselves?
I’ve put up with so much mental abuse from co workers and customers working customer service jobs, and all to bring home barely enough to pay my bills and eat. It’s put me in a several year long stretch of depression. But the past 4 months have been the happiest time of my life. I am able to feel comfortable with money, and do what I want with my time, including studying and researching things that interest me. If the 600 unemployment gets extended I have made my mind up that I will be going to school as well to learn a trade so I can do something I enjoy and make a decent living. If unemployment doesn’t get extended, it’s back to working for $11 an hour and being told I’m a piece of garbage by customers while I take their orders.
After months of searching for work, Mr. Branch is starting a new job next week. He had hoped to be able to begin before the end of January, but he tested positive for Covid, which pushed back his interview.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I’ll get a job by the end of this month. And then I can just forget about the V.E.C. and just stop bothering with it,” he said, referring to Virginia’s employment agency. “And then I got Covid and I immediately went to Reddit and I was like, OK, now I’ve got to worry again.”
Pay reddit back unemployment ny
'A big issue': Unemployment aid backlog is dire for millions of Americans
Before she was furloughed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Chantel Clark had worked for years as a visual merchandiser at a Macy's in Georgia so she would have the flexibility in her schedule to care for her son, who has special needs.
When she was called back to work in May, she took the opportunity. But when her 8-year-old son's special needs camp and school stopped offering in-person classes, "there were no good child care options," said Clark, 39. Without access to family leave, she had to resign to take care of her son, she said.
Because she resigned, she hadn't qualified for regular unemployment insurance. But she believed she would be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, special unemployment compensation for people who don't ordinarily qualify for unemployment benefits, including parents unable to work because of child care needs during the pandemic.
In Georgia's system, she needed to apply for state unemployment insurance first and be denied before she could apply for PUA, which also covers gig workers and the self-employed. She applied in August, but both her initial claim and her subsequent PUA claim have been denied. She was told she didn't meet the criteria for benefits, and she is awaiting the results of an appeal.
"All the way through now, I haven't received a dime from anyone," she said.
She's far from alone. Months after the coronavirus began battering the U.S. economy, millions of jobless people still haven't received unemployment benefits, the nonpartisan Century Foundation think tank estimated. Others have endured extensive delays.
In some cases, states are too overwhelmed to tackle their immense backlogs of applications, said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the foundation. In other instances, aggressive systems to root out fraud are slowing getting much-needed aid in people's hands.
"That's been very difficult, very frustrating for people that have, some of them, waited many, many weeks or even months for their benefits," he said. "It's a big issue."
To make ends meet, Clark and her husband used the money they had been saving to purchase a home. They can no longer afford speech therapy or applied behavioral therapy for her son. They sold their second car. And Clark's husband is working double shifts, picking up extra work whenever he can, "just to keep our family afloat," she said.
Clark said that her husband has diabetes and that the family is "making miracles every single month just to afford his prescription medication, because it's so expensive."
"You're just trying to hold on day by day, and it makes it so much more difficult when you have no communication with anyone," she said. "It drains you so mentally and emotionally, and it makes you just feel worthless, like you're begging someone to give you something that was entitled to be given."
Unemployment claims remain well above pre-pandemic levels, when weekly applications typically numbered around 225,000. Claims reached a high of 7 million in March, according to the Labor Department, before they fell in the summer. The number of people applying for first-time unemployment claims has hovered around 1 million in recent months; 847,000 claims were filed in the week that ended Jan. 23, the department reported. Nearly 16 million people now get some type of unemployment assistance.
State agencies say they have hired new employees, brought back retired ones and worked seven days a week to try to keep up with the staggering number of claims, while also trying to combat fraud.
Unemployment agencies in Georgia, California, Oregon and Kentucky didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Millions of people are still waiting to be approved or rejected for benefits, Stettner said, citing the foundation's data.
The foundation also looked at claims levels Dec. 26 and estimated how much would have been paid out if benefits hadn't been interrupted by the delay in enacting the stimulus bill at the end of December. The group found that the program should have been paying out $11.5 billion per week in January. Instead, it said, actual payouts reported by the Treasury Department for all unemployment benefits totaled $28.7 billion as of late January, about $17.3 billion less than the $46.1 billion in benefits "that would have gone out if everyone would have received the promised aid on time."
Stettner said that because state systems have been so overwhelmed, "anyone who had any kind of complication in their application was having a lot of problems and severe delays in the process."
That has been the case for Nicole, 34, an actor and teaching artist in California. Nicole, who asked that her last name not be used out of fear of future employment issues, filed for state unemployment insurance after her outlets for employment shut down in March. She applied for unemployment assistance and went months without a response.
"It's just all the waiting and all of the calling that you have to do that takes time away from actually looking for work or actually bettering your life," she said.
A few months after Nicole applied, California's unemployment office told her that the issue was that she had made money in New York and New Jersey before she moved to California in September 2019.
"So, not only was the California unemployment office overwhelmed, but they had to call the New York unemployment office to confirm my income and they're overwhelmed, and they also have to call New Jersey to verify my income," she said. "And I just kept being like: 'I have all my tax forms. I've had them all here for you. I faxed them to you. I've emailed them to you.'
"I just don't understand this very silly thing of verifying my income when I have federal documents proving what I made," she said.
Nicole said she had to go on food stamps for the first time, accept boxes of donated food and borrow money from her parents.
"If I didn't have that, I would have been homeless," she said. "I would have been on someone's couch for sure."
She received her benefits with back pay in August, five months after she applied — but because the state has yet to verify her New Jersey income, her benefits were still short of what they should have been, she said.
Any relief she felt was brief. In September, Nicole's benefits stopped without explanation, and she said she was back to calling the state's unemployment office to no avail until the assistance started again this month.
"It made me feel very small and very helpless," she said. "There was shame, and there still is shame."
As part of his proposed $1.9 trillion relief package, President Joe Biden has called for additional payments, including direct payments of $1,400 per person and a $400-a-week federal unemployment program.
In an executive order, the Biden administration established a coordination system across federal agencies to help people figure out what benefits they qualify for. The White House cited the difficulty laid-off or furloughed service workers have had getting timely access to benefits.
Mary Proffitt, 64, found herself applying for unemployment benefits for the first time after she was laid off from her restaurant job in Kentucky in March. Initially, the state's system just kept crashing, she said. She was eventually able to get through at the end of March, and she collected a few weeks of benefits, but after she had to recertify in May, she suddenly found herself in a callback queue. She waited 18 weeks before she got back payments and was able to pay her bills.
"I'd been living off of what little bit of savings I had prior to this, because you just literally can't go 18 weeks without a dime," said Proffitt, whose teenage son has special needs and whose immunocompromised father she helps support.
"The most stressful thing is having to juggle priorities and not having any income at all," she said. "Is it the light bill? I have to have cable, because we have to have Wi-Fi for school."
Even when the money did come in, her state unemployment benefits were just $131.
"My little $131 a week doesn't go very far. Everything has to be prioritized," she said. Her heating bill last month was $184; groceries were about $100 a week.
To supplement her income, she made embroidered masks for $20 apiece.
"We ate off my mask business for a while," she said.
Now, she again finds herself in a callback queue and hasn't gotten any assistance since November.
"If I dig deep into my soul, it's a miracle that I'm not suicidal, and I have talked to people who are at the end of their rope," Proffitt said.
"I really do feel that unemployed people are like the last people on the planet to be heard, and especially older people," she said. "Because we're just stuck. I will never financially recover from this."
Proffitt said the hardest part has been the holidays.
"I had to tell my special needs son that lights and heat were Christmas," she said.
Even when people like Proffitt successfully collect unemployment, the amount can be too low for many families to live on alone.
Stettner said state unemployment benefits average $339 a week. PUA has been averaging about $240 a week, he said.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, the coronavirus relief law Congress passed last year, gave those receiving unemployment benefits an extra $600 a week from April to the end of July.
When the aid lapsed at the end of July, the Trump administration implemented a short-term program called Lost Wages Assistance, a $300 supplement that lasted for about five weeks.
Advocates have pushed to continue such relief payments, both to help people make ends meet and to stimulate the economy.
Stephanie Freed, co-director ExtendPUA, a group advocating for pandemic relief centered on unemployment and aid for workers, has been unemployed since March because of the pandemic.
Freed, a freelance production electrician and lighting designer in the entertainment business in New York City, said that in a survey in December of 1,300 unemployed and underemployed workers who use the organization's website, 9.9 percent said they still hadn't received benefits.
"With no boost to unemployment, it's not going to be solved," she said. "People are living in their cars. One woman reached out to us — she's living in her car, and now she can no longer go to the job interviews anymore because she can't afford gas.
"We've gotten ourselves into such a desperate, desperate place where millions of people — it's not hundreds of people that are falling through the cracks," she said.
Rachel Deutsch, the supervising attorney for worker justice at the Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group, said that when people face such potentially long periods of unemployment, "if you don't supplement the pandemic or the regular state unemployment insurance with some additional income, people are going to face extremely dire consequences."
Valerie Turos, 35, a sound engineer, worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and later for another theater in California before she was let go in the spring because of the pandemic. Turos said she initially had no issues with her unemployment claim in Oregon because she had a previously existing claim open.
Her ordeal began when that claim ran out, she said, and the Oregon Employment Department told her to file a claim in California, because she had since worked there, as well.
The verification process trudged along slowly, until finally, Turos said, she was told that part of the problem was that her W2 form was too blurry.
The claim has been pending since September.
"I kept calling every week, and it was kind of random who we would get to help from California unemployment. They had, like, a lot of people that had just been hired," she said. "So it kind of depends on who you get how much help you can get."
Eventually, she was told that she would be in the window to start a new claim again in Oregon, but because she had claimed another state through her California application, she had to do so by phone.
"I've been trying to call Oregon's unemployment for, like, the last several weeks. This morning, me and my wife each called 50 times, and it's just, like, a busy signal," Turos said. "I don't know how you can get through on the phone right now.
"It is a really scary process, and it's also just overwhelming that you just keep calling and you're told to call back or you can't get through," she said.
Deutsch said people "all need a safety net that actually catches us when we fall, and that this was not it."
"People have now realized that it doesn't matter who you are, what you've accomplished in your professional life, you can be vulnerable to this kind of precarity," she said.
"Yes, we need immediate relief. The December relief bill was not enough," she said. "But also, we need to be looking towards the kinds of structural changes that are required so that nobody has to go through this again."
Daniella Silva is a reporter for NBC News focusing on the economic recovery and its effect on families, as well as immigration.
What to Do About Unemployment Overpayment
Losing a job can be financially and emotionally draining. While unemployment assistance can help alleviate some of the stress, what happens when your state overpays you? It has happened.
Many state unemployment systems deliberately use old technology to help prevent fraud, but that can quickly become problematic if the systems are overloaded with requests. That happened when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the U.S. economy overnight, leading to millions of people losing their jobs. In April 2020, the unemployment rate surged to 14.7%, with 23.1 million workers losing their jobs. While it has since come down to 6% in March 2021, that’s still 2.5% higher than February 2020, right before the pandemic, and 9.7 million people remain jobless.
- It’s not uncommon for states to overpay unemployment benefits.
- Only a small fraction of overpayments are due to fraud.
- The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a flood of claims and new relief programs that state unemployment systems were ill-equipped to handle.
- Many states are scrambling to enact policies for waiving or forgiving legitimate overpayments, rather than automatically clawing them back.
COVID-19 and Unemployment Insurance
The government scrambled to get relief packages up and running when the pandemic shut down the economy, but most state unemployment offices were understaffed and ill-equipped from a technology standpoint to handle the barrage of requests for help. Add to that the fact that many first-time unemployed workers were thrown into a panic of trying to figure out if they qualified and what they had to do to get the funds needed just to survive. The combination led to months of confusion, chaos, and long wait times. For some, it also resulted in the overpayment of benefits.
To put the situation in perspective, a record 3.28 million people filed for unemployment assistance in the week ending March 21, 2020, up from just 282,000 in the prior week. State unemployment offices were handling roughly one million new claims every week in 2020, resulting in more than $580 billion of unemployment insurance benefits being paid out to some 40 million Americans. As of September 2021, California alone has processed 24.5 million claims and paid out $173 billion in total benefits since March 2020.
In addition to regular unemployment benefits, many Americans who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and normally would not qualify for unemployment did so under the government’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which was extended several times before ultimately expiring on September 6, 2021. This further complicated a system that was already struggling to keep up with demand and led to billions of dollars being overpaid.
How Much Has Been Overpaid?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, states reported more than $3.6 billion of PUA overpayments from March 2020 through February 2021. In addition, states flagged overpayments of regular unemployment insurance totaling $12.9 billion from April 2020 through March 2021, according to a July 2021 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Historically, the bulk of overpayments have been tied to unintentional errors on the part of filers or the agencies with which they are filing. Some reasons that overpayments occur are:
- Reporting incorrect earnings (such as gross instead of net)
- Incorrect wage history
- Applying when unqualified (even if initially approved)
- Application inaccuracies
What About Fraud?
Fraud generally accounts for only a small portion of unemployment overpayment. The New York State Department of Labor said it had identified more than 425,000 fraudulent claims during the pandemic and prevented $5.5 billion of payments from being doled out to fraudsters. That’s not small change, but as the state paid $65 billion to more than four million New Yorkers from March 2020 through January 2021, it’s still less than 11% of the total number of legitimate claims paid.
As the U.S. government scrambled to roll out relief programs and expand unemployment, systems were flooded with new claims that created the perfect storm for fraudsters. The U.S. Department of Justice created an anti-fraud task force in 2020 that charged fraud or money laundering in a dozen cases specifically tied to unemployment insurance.
If that doesn’t sound like much, then consider this: One man was recently arrested and charged with allegedly using over 250 stolen identities to defraud the New York State Department of Labor of $1.4 million in unemployment benefits.
The approximate percentage of unemployment insurance claims that were fraudulent in the state of New York during the pandemic.
What to Do If You Receive an Overpayment Notice
But what about people who are just caught in the middle of an antiquated system that is ill-equipped to handle requests from the newly unemployed? Let’s posit that you’ve received a notice from your state unemployment office claiming that you’ve been overpaid by thousands of dollars. There was no red flag. You followed all the steps required in your initial filing, have been diligently certifying your claim weekly, and have been receiving the assistance that you thought was due to you. Now you’ve been told that you owe some—or all—of that back. What can you do?
- File an appeal:If you feel that you received the notice in error, go to your state unemployment website to request a hearing.
- Request a waiver:If the overpayment is legitimate, then you may be entitled to either a waiver or forgiveness of it. Either way, you may only have a small window of time to request such an action, so be sure to check with your state’s requirements.
- Repay the money:Either contact your state department of labor to work out a repayment plan or simply pay the amount back in full.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a “state may authorize a waiver when or if the overpayment was not the fault of the claimant and requiring repayment would be against equity and good conscience or would otherwise defeat the purpose of the UI [unemployment insurance] law.”
Until recently, that did not include PUA, which is a federal program. However, under the latest stimulus bill, states may waive overpayment of PUA if “(A) the payment of such pandemic unemployment assistance was without fault on the part of any such individual; and (B) such repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience.”
While states have been given the ability to grant waivers, it doesn’t mean that all of them will, so it is important to check your state’s labor department rules as soon as possible. The rules are constantly changing, and there are several bills making their way through different state legislatures.
One thing you should do is act quickly. Gather any records, screenshots, statements, or notes that document your case. State labor departments can (and often will) automatically begin garnishing any future unemployment or other wages. Even if the finding of overpayment is wrong, mistakes are not always easy to untangle, and you still may wind up having money garnished.
If you have received an overpayment of unemployment insurance and want to file a waiver, then you should act quickly, as state labor departments automatically start to garnish your future income or unemployment benefits.
Pushing for Change
While the latest stimulus bill allows for both state and federal nonfraudulent overpayments to be waived or forgiven, it’s up to the states to make that happen. For example, Virginia, which had been among the states that did not forgive overpayments, recently approved legislation that would allow for “the repayment of an overpayment of benefits waived where the claimant is at no fault for the overpayment and the repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience during specified benefit weeks that occurred during the COVID-19 health pandemic.” However, this remains a temporary measure that is only valid from March 21, 2020, through July 3, 2021.
The New York State Department of Labor recently announced on Twitter that “in April and May of 2020, a small portion of claimants received duplicate payments.” It’s been widely reported that the department overpaid more than $114 million in benefits due to errors on its part. The Twitter announcement sparked a backlash online, leaving many claimants scrambling for answers.
It also prompted 12 state senators to send a letter urging the department to enact a policy of waiving or forgiving overpayments. “The collection of unemployment overpayments is a particularly troublesome burden on individuals during the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis,” they wrote, adding: “At a time when it appears that the New York State Department of Labor is still overwhelmed by volume of current claims, prioritizing departmental resources on collecting overpayment could be reconsidered.”
While many states are trying to take action to address the overpayment and waiver and forgiveness issues, it’s unclear how these policies will be enacted and how long they will last.
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Millions of workers could end up having to pay back unemployment benefits if they don’t submit newly required paperwork supporting their claims.
The new requirements apply to the 3 to 4 million gig workers and independent contractors who receive unemployment benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program that was recently extended through March, according to unemployment researcher Andrew Stettner.
Update: New Unemployment Benefits and Stimulus Payments Passed By Congress. Here Are 6 Highlights From the Bill
“Those individuals are going to have to substantiate their employment and prove their identity, even if they had not done so in 2020. They also have new requirements to certify that they are still out of work due to COVID each and every week,” says Stettner.
The new stimulus package that passed in late December extended the PUA, a program that was originally established in the CARES Act in May 2020 to extend unemployment benefits to gig workers, independent contractors, and other workers who normally wouldn’t qualify. So if you’re an Uber driver, freelance writer, consultant, or any other type of independent contractor who has lost work and filed for unemployment, this deadline could apply to you.
At issue is a new threshold of proof for individuals to continue or start receiving benefits through the PUA. For workers who apply (or re-apply) for these benefits before Jan. 31, they’ll have 90 days to provide this extra documentation, which includes things like W-2s, tax returns, and business receipts. Failure to follow through with this extra verification could result in having to pay back any benefits received since the week of Dec. 27, 2020.
When the 90-day period starts varies by state. Federal guidance says individuals must provide the documentation “within 90 days of the application date or the date the individual is instructed to provide such documentation by the state agency (whichever is later).”
For people who file for these extended PUA benefits between Jan. 31 and when they are currently set to expire on March 14, they’ll have 21 days to provide this information.
While every PUA claimant going forward will need to provide this documentation, you might have already submitted many of these documents if you filed to increase your benefit amount through the PUA in May. Some people who qualified for more than the minimum PUA payment (because their loss of income was greater) already had to submit these documents.
But if you only received the minimum benefit amount from the PUA, which is 50 percent of what you normally earn, you will likely need to file further documentation with your state to continue receiving benefits and avoid paying back any benefits you’ve already received.
Make sure you double check to see if you need to submit further documentation. If you’re not sure, submit it anyway. You can find more information on your state’s requirements through your state’s department of labor. Even though some people may have submitted these documents previously, Stettner said many states failed to properly document it, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office also found inconsistencies in how different states implemented and reported on the program.
For workers who need to provide increased verification to support PUA claims, the following documents may be required:
- Paycheck stubs
- Earnings and leave statements showing the employer’s name and address
- W-2 forms
For proof of self employment, you may need to provide:
- State or federal employer identification numbers
- Business licenses
- Tax returns
- Business receipts
- Signed affidavits from persons verifying the individual’s self employment
Exact needs will vary by state. Check with your state’s department of labor for your requirements.
Paying Back Benefits
If you do not submit your documentation on time, or are deemed ineligible to continue receiving PUA benefits, you could have to pay back any benefits you’ve received since Dec. 27, 2020.
Each state has different overpayment recovery procedures. Possible methods of collecting that repayment include offset of future benefits, reduction in tax returns, or other repayment plans.
There is also uncertainty about the states’ ability to comply with these heightened requirements, and their ability to process an onslaught of new documentation.
“It could end up being in the millions of people who have not [sent their documents] yet and then states will have to process those within 90 days,” says Stettner. “That’s a big requirement.”
This backlog could result in delayed benefits for new claimants, so the more documentation you can include with your claim, the better your chances of avoiding any issues down the line.