COVID-19 and Unemployment: Know Your Rights

(Represented with permission of Legal Services Alabama)
UPDATE: 4/8/20

Under the CARES Act, unemployment compensation has been expanded nationally.
If you are eligible, you are eligible for the maximum weekly benefit in Alabama, PLUS an additional $600 per week.
The maximum weekly benefit in Alabama is $265. Not everyone qualifies for this maximum amount. It’s based on how long you worked at your job.
Whatever your maximum weekly benefit is, you’re entitled to an additional $600 per week.
These funds are slowly becoming available in Alabama. You should file a claim now if you have been affected. You should be able to receive retroactive benefits once you start receiving benefits.

You are eligible if you are out of work due to COVID-19. There are many applicable scenarios, including, but not limited to:

  1. You or a household member is diagnosed with COVID-19, or you are caring for a household or family member. This changes the normal rule that you must be “able and available” for work in order to get UC.
  2. Your child is out of school/daycare due to COVID-19.
  3. You’re under mandatory quarantine or your healthcare provider has advised you to self-quarantine.
  4. Your head of household died from COVID-19, and you are now the “breadwinner” for the household.
  5. You were unable to start a new job due to COVID-19, you had to quit your job due to COVID-19, or your business is closed due to COVID-19.
    This changes the normal rule that you can’t get UC if you quit a job.

Under the CARES Act, unemployment has now also been expanded to the following groups who were usually not eligible for UC:

  1. The self-employed
  2. Church employees
  3. Non-profit and governmental employees
  4. Independent contractors
  5. Gig economy workers
  6. Those who have exhausted their regular UC benefits

Check with employer to see if they are applying for unemployment on your behalf. If so, let them do so.

Additional Notes

  1. You may also qualify for UC if your hours have been reduced due to COVID-19.
  2. You are also eligible for up to 13 additional weeks of benefits from what you would normally be entitled to under Alabama law.

How to File a Claim

You can file a claim online or over the phone (1-866-234-5382).
Note: The Department of Labor is experiencing an extremely high volume of applicants, and so wait times have increased significantly. You may not hear back right away.

Even in normal times, it can be very difficult to get public benefits. Now, more people are applying for services, and the state has not hired enough staff to make sure that things go smoothly. Here are a few tips to help you through:

Tip 1: Keep pushing. The state’s websites have crashed. Phone lines are full. Going in person might be dangerous and can also be slow. But, you have to apply in order to get benefits. Be persistent and safe.

Tip 2: Keep proof. If you speak with someone, write down their name, title, phone number, the date, and what they said. If you do something online, take a screenshot of your application or any messages you get. If you turn papers in, keep a copy for yourself and get proof that you turned them in. If you mail something, send it certified if you can afford it. If you get a letter from an agency, keep it in a safe place. Important note: These programs often accuse people of fraud, sometimes years later. Having and keeping paperwork helps fight allegations of fraud.

Tip 3: Get all the applications going. Don’t wait on unemployment to come. You can also apply for SNAP, Medicaid, and other benefits. You don’t know when you will actually get benefits, so apply as soon as possible for everything you may qualify for.

Tip 4: Appeal if you are denied and think you should qualify. Each kind of program has a different time period for you to appeal. Read the letter closely. Keep a copy of it. Turn in your appeal and get proof that you turned it in.

Tip 5: Call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995 if you can’t get benefits, are denied for benefits, or face difficulties applying.

Tip 6: Let DHR know if you end up getting unemployment. Programs like SNAP have income limits. Unemployment can count against those limits. So, if you get unemployment, you should let DHR know. That way, DHR can stop SNAP if you are no longer eligible. Note: The $1200 stimulus check will not count against you for SNAP, Medicaid, ALL Kids, or SSI.

Tip 7: Share your story. Everyone has the right to speak with reporters or elected officials. Sharing your story can help them understand what’s going on.

Disability and Language Translation: People with disabilities or who do not speak English fluently may have particularly hard times getting benefits now. Please call Legal Services Alabama if you can’t get disability accommodations or language translation.

If you have questions about whether or not you qualify or the application process, you can contact Legal Services Alabama for help at 1-866-456-4995.