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Lost your job due to the coronavirus? Here’s where to get help
10 steps to handle unemployment or cut hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you were laid off, had your hours cut or got sick during the coronavirus outbreak, you don’t just have to rely on your savings alone. Several state and local governments — along with larger employers and lenders — are working to help people who have been impacted financially by the ongoing pandemic.
WATCH: How to manage your finances during the coronavirus
10 steps to take if you lost your job due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Apply for unemployment.
- Check your state’s resources.
- Keep communication open with your employer.
- Look into an alternative source of income.
- Review your insurance policies.
- Contact your bank and creditors.
- Request deferment or forbearance on your student loans.
- Call your utility provider.
- Get in touch with your life insurance provider.
- Consider a low-cost loan or credit card.
1. Apply for unemployment.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded unemployment benefits for Americans who were laid off or otherwise had to stop working due to the coronavirus outbreak.
States are now offering up to 39 weeks of payments, and some have also expanded payment amounts and more for unemployed residents. Plus, they now have the option of extending benefits to workers who normally wouldn’t qualify, like independent contractors and self-employed individuals.
For example, California just announced its new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that offers a minimum of $167 in weekly benefits to freelancers, gig workers, independent contractors and self-employed individuals.
The federal government is also offering an additional $600 on top of what your state gives you for four months — including benefits to self-employed individuals, freelancers, independent contractors, sole proprietors and gig workers.
If you still can’t qualify for unemployment, check with your former employer to see if there are any other benefits or financial help available to you. For example, some are reimbursing medical costs and offering expanded sick leave to their employees.
What do I need to apply?
You’ll typically need to provide the following information:
- Reason for unemployment
- First and last day worked with employer
- Employer’s name, address and phone number
- Contact information and home address
- Social Security number
- Bank’s name, address, account number and routing number
Check with your state’s Department of Labor to see what other details are required before you file.
What if I’m a sole proprietor or independent contractor?
Aside from qualifying for unemployment benefits through the federal government, you also might qualify for an SBA disaster loan or Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan if you’re self-employed and out of work. The PPP reopened in January 2021 with a deadline of May 31, 2021. The SBA also updated the monthly payroll formula in March 2021 to help you qualify for a larger loan amount this time around.
You can learn more about your options with our freelancer’s guide to weathering the coronavirus outbreak.
Will I get paid leave if I have reduced hours or get sick?
It depends on your employer. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives at least two weeks of paid leave to employees at companies with fewer than 500 employees. The time can be used if you’re sick, quarantined, seeking medical help for COVID-19 or taking care of a sick family member. It also provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave if you have kids whose school or regular child care is closed because of the virus.
If you work for a company with more than 500 employees, you’re a healthcare worker or you started your job less than 30 days ago, you aren’t guaranteed sick leave. And businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be able to apply for an exemption. But many employers, including those who aren’t obligated to under the new law, are updating their policies in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
If you’re concerned about what will happen if you get sick, talk with your employer ahead of time to find out what benefits are available to you. You can also research the laws in your state to learn more about protections you may have.
If your workplace is a union shop and you’re not already a member, talk to your coworkers and research how your union works to learn more about whether you’d benefit from joining.
2. Check your state’s resources
State governments are stepping up to protect residents who are out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak. While the exact resources you might qualify for will depend on the programs available in your state, you may be eligible for unemployment or medical assistance without the usual one-week wait period.
Some states have even started to offer grants and loans to those who are most affected by the coronavirus, and New York has even required loan companies to halt collections for student and medical debt.
3. Keep communication open with your employer.
If you’re out of work because your employer has temporarily or permanently closed, stay in touch. State-run unemployment typically requires you to pick up any hours offered and continue to look for work. You should also ask about any sick leave policies or work-from-home options that may be available to you during quarantine or self-isolation.
Quite a few companies have even continued paying hourly workers who are unable to work due to a confirmed case of COVID-19, cold- or flu-like symptoms or a mandated workplace closure.
Check with your employer’s policies to see what compensation you may be eligible for, if any.
File a workers’ compensation claim
If you were exposed to COVID-19 at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation. However, you’ll need to prove that your job played a significant role in you falling sick. Talk to a legal adviser about your specific situation and next steps — many will offer a one-hour consultation for free.
4. Look into an alternative source of income.
If the coronavirus pandemic has halted your main source of income, consider investing some energy into finding a side hustle. Even a freelancing gig or two can help. Armed with an Internet connection and a computer, there are plenty of options to explore.
If you’re looking for a speedy influx of cash, consider putting your skills or interests to work:
- Get paid for freelance writing
- Tutor over Skype
- Become a virtual assistant
- Sell items on eBay or clothing on sites like Poshmark and ThredUp
Many long-term side hustles could make you more money. But they take longer to get off the ground. If you’re not strapped for cash and have time on your hands, consider the following:
- Start an online blog
- Open an Etsy store
- Teach an online course
- Start a dropshipping business
- Create a YouTube channel
Companies hiring temporary workers right now
Whether you’re a server at a restaurant that closed or a personal trainer who no longer has a gym to go to, you have options to work in the interim until your employer opens back up again.
Many companies like Fedex, Whole Foods, Costco, Walgreens and Instacart are looking to hire temporary workers to keep up with an increase in demand.
5. Review your insurance policies.
Insurance policies are designed to provide a financial fallback in the event of a crisis, disaster or emergency.
Review your policies to learn how your coverage works and if you qualify for any assistance:
- Mortgage protection insurance. If you added a job loss or layoff insurance rider to your mortgage protection insurance, your home payments may be temporarily covered while you’re unemployed.
- Disability insurance. If you’re unable to work because of a COVID-19 diagnosis, short-term disability insurance may cover between 60% and 80% of your paycheck, depending on your policy and provider.
- Health insurance. Compare the cost of COBRA coverage to other health insurance options to find the best policy for your needs.
Remember: Insurance coverage only kicks in if certain criteria are met. You may have to hold a policy for a certain length of time or be out of work for a significant period due to a covered reason before you can file a claim. Contact your insurance provider for more information.
Is it too late to apply for insurance to help me through this?
Not necessarily, but it will depend on the type of insurance you’re looking for, the provider and their policies. For more information, read our guide to getting insurance during the coronavirus outbreak.
6. Contact your bank and creditors.
Many creditors offer assistance when you’re facing financial hardship — especially with the effect the coronavirus is having on our economy. You can qualify for nearly a year of forbearance if you have a federally backed mortgage.
Contact your bank and other lenders to see if they’re willing to defer payments, waive interest, lower fees or offer other programs to help you while you’re unemployed due to COVID-19.
7. Request deferment or forbearance on your student loans.
The Department of Education automatically suspended repayments on federal student loans until October 2020, so you don’t need to apply for deferment for those loans. But if you have private loans, you still need to reach out to your servicer if you need to pause repayments until you have a job again. Some might also offer other types of hardship assistance.
8. Call your utility provider.
States like Washington, New York and New Jersey have called for utility companies to suspend shut offs, waive fees and provide bill assistance to out-of-work customers — and others may follow their lead.
Until then, call your provider and ask to speak to a hardship officer — they may help you work out a plan to pay your bills in smaller installments.
9. Get in touch with your life insurance company.
Your life insurance company may be willing to pause your premiums if you’re facing financial hardship without causing a lapse in coverage. Contact your insurer and ask if there’s a financial assistance program available.
While most insurance companies require you to meet a specific period of unemployment before issuing a waiver, there may be exceptions because of the coronavirus outbreak.
10. Consider applying for a low-interest loan or credit card.
It may be tempting to turn to short-term loans while you’re out of work, but there are alternatives you should consider first. Some lenders are even offering reduced interest rates on personal loans and lines of credit — but you may still need a regular source of income to qualify.
Another option is to apply for a credit card with a 0% APR introductory rate — some last as long as 21 months, though you typically need good to excellent credit to qualify.
We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you're interested in before making a decision.
Stressed over losing your job? There are resources to help
If your former employer gave you access to a mental health professional through an employee assistance program (EAP), see if you can still use this service. You don’t need to tell them why you’re seeking help in order to access the EAP provided as part of your benefits package.
If that’s not an option, contact your health insurer to find out how you’re covered for mental health.
Finally, look online for free or low-cost clinics and therapists available near you, and check out online support groups that you can participate in at home while you’re social distancing.
Losing out on work because of COVID-19 is something millions of Americans are facing together, but there are resources available to help. To stay up to date on the latest news, check out our guide to the coronavirus.
Frequently asked questions
Answers to more questions about assistance when you’re unemployed.
Can I qualify for a loan if I’m unemployed?
It depends on the lender — some are willing to accept government benefits, like unemployment, as income. But it varies — reach out to the lender and explain your situation. Many are willing to work with Americans who’ve been negatively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Just keep in mind that if you aren’t able to repay the loan, you could end up in a worse financial situation than without it.
I haven’t been laid off yet, but I’m afraid I will. What should I do?
If you’re likely to be laid off in the next several months, start looking for a new job as soon as possible. And if you’re not sure if your job is safe, talk with your boss to learn more about what you can expect and if they’d be willing to write you a recommendation.
Some companies are more resistant to major economic changes and will keep hiring new people to work from home, but the number of new available positions up is likely to drop in the coming months.
And jobs directly related to handling the sudden changes caused by the virus, like positions answering customer service lines for major companies affected by the pandemic, may be temporary solutions.
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