Cindy Schultz / The New York Times

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), pictured in an April press conference, outlined a reopening plan set to occur in phases. Tompkins County, a lower risk region in the Southern Tier, would be one of the first to reopen, but will not until all CDC guidelines are met.

April 15, 2020

How To File For Unemployment Insurance Benefits

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As the United States experiences an unprecedented escalation in individuals applying for unemployment benefits, many Cornellians have suddenly found themselves among the millions of Americans now without a job.

Overwhelmed labor departments have led to thousands of applicants reporting “error messages, frozen screens, disconnected calls and busy signals” when trying to file claims, according to CNN.  New York State has resorted to asking individuals to apply on separate days, based on the first letter of their last name.

With confusion clouding a process that is critical in replacing suddenly lost income, The Sun produced a brief guide for how to navigate the complicated unemployment insurance process.

Determining Eligibility

Although each state sets its own guidelines for accessing unemployment insurance benefits, the overall process and eligibility requirements tend to be similar.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, one normally qualifies if they become involuntarily unemployed for reasons unrelated to misconduct and meet their state’s work and wage history requirements. For instance, in New York, an applicant must have earned at least $2,400 in one of the two calendar quarters prior to termination of employment.

However, the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, through a program called “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” has significantly expanded insurance eligibility — meaning many who wouldn’t have qualified before may now have a valid claim to at least some benefits.

The labor department issued guidance to states expanding eligibility to include those who are self-quarantining and have left employment due to risk of exposure or to care for a family member. Most states will now also offer benefits to part-time and self-employed workers, many of whom were previously not covered.

Because of uncertainty over how new regulations and programs will be implemented, it’s generally a good idea to apply, even if one has doubts about their eligibility.


After becoming unemployed, one should file a claim with their state’s labor department as soon as possible. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, on the phone or online.

While there is usually a one-week unpaid waiting period before benefits are delivered, states like Ohio, New York and California have waived it.

“There’s no reason to wait a week because you can start getting those benefits as soon as possible,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. “It’s good for you, it’s good for the economy.”

The claim should be filed with the state where one worked. The unemployment insurance agency of the state where one currently lives can inform them how to file a claim with other states if they worked in a state other than the one where they now live, or if they worked in multiple states.

Certain information will be asked when filing a claim, and it’s important to ensure the information is correct so as not to delay the claim.

The complete list of information required varies by state, although most include Social Security number, mailing address, phone number, bank information and driver’s license number. The application will also ask employment information for one’s most recent employer and any employer worked with over the past 18 to 24 months.

It generally takes two to three weeks after filing a claim to receive the first benefit check. However, with a sudden surge of applications, it is possible for a delay to occur when filing the claim and it may take a couple of tries to complete the application, according to CNBC.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits

The weekly unemployment benefits are composed of multiple parts, according to CNBC.

Like other entitlement programs, such as Social Security, the amount one receives is tied to how much one makes — and, therefore, pays into the system in the form of taxes. Under standard unemployment, New York’s benefits range from $104 to $504, depending on one’s earnings in previous quarters. For instance, one previously making $40,000 a year could expect to receive about $384 a week.

However, the CARES Act adds a second component to unemployment benefits, awarding an additional $600 a week for all filers for up to four months, receivable even if state benefits have been exhausted. While typical unemployment insurance is designed to replace roughly 50 percent of one’s lost wages, the additional grant will produce close to full income replacement for many filers.

Moreover, even if one is not eligible for standard unemployment insurance, they still may be able to access the weekly $600 benefit provided by the federal government.

In most states, unemployment insurance typically expires after between 14 and 26 weeks, but provisions in the coronavirus relief bill have, in most states, extended this duration. A condition of continuing to receive unemployment is that one actively searches for work; however, amid widespread closure of non-essential businesses, at least 27 states have temporarily waived this requirement.