You Lost Your Job In NC Because Of The Coronavirus. What Should You Do Now?
Layoffs have already begun in many workplaces around North Carolina -- especially at restaurants and retail stores -- as fears of the coronavirus mount and elected officials urge people to stay home. If you're let go from your job, what should you do?
First, know that you're not alone. More than 535,000 people are employed by North Carolina's leisure and hospitality sector, and more than 163,000 people work in other services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Very likely, you're in the same boat as a lot of other people who've suddenly had their hours cut, or their employment ended.
So what should you do while you're self-quarantining at home, wondering how you'll pay rent, buy groceries, and look for a new source of income -- all without leaving the house for the foreseeable future?
One solution is to file for unemployment. North Carolina's governor, Roy Cooper, has ordered the state to start offering unemployment benefits to people who've lost their jobs or have had hours reduced because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Many of the usual restrictions have been waived -- like having to wait a week after losing your job, and the requirement that applicants must "actively" seek work.
How To File For Unemployment
The quickest way to file is to make an online account at www.des.nc.gov. You will need:
- Your Social Security number
- Your bank routing number and account number (if you'd like direct deposit -- otherwise, payment is placed on a DES debit card)
- Your work history for the past two years (employer name as it appears on your check stub, employer's payroll and physical addresses, telephone number, employment dates, rate of pay)
- For non-citizens only: your "Alien number" and expiration date from your Employment Authorization Document
The online process takes about 30 minutes, and if you have problems, you can call the help line at 888-737-0259, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
How much you receive will depend on how much you were making at your job. The state will add up the wages you earned over the last two quarters of the base period and divide that number by 52. That's your weekly allotment.
For example, if you were working full time making minimum wage ($7.50 an hour), you would receive roughly $138 per week. The maximum someone can earn is $350 a week, and benefits are limited to 20 weeks max.
Once approved, you'll have to complete a weekly check-in with the Division of Employment Security (DES). The department is suspending in-person check-ins while the pandemic is unfolding, and may instead ask you to check in online or by phone.
How Do I Know If I'm Eligible?
Per the governor's executive order, anyone who has been laid off or had their hours reduced as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic is now eligible to apply for unemployment.
If your employer is telling you to stay home, but you're still being paid, you are likely not eligible. DES has a full list of questions and answers related to COVID-19 on their website that may help with further clarification.
What About The Long Term?
Once you've submitted an application, the state will ask your employer to confirm that you've been let go or had your hours reduced because of the virus. Employers are given 10 days to respond, and the state says no payments will be released prior to that 10-day period. That means if you file a claim before the end of this week, you have a chance of receiving money before April 1.
Already, the state is seeing an uptick in claims. The N.C. Department of Commerce says more than 4,700 claims related to COVID-19 have been filed over the last three days. Typically, the department receives an average of 3,500 claims per week.
How long until all this blows over? It's still too soon to say. Some researchers say we'll need "months" of social distancing in order to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases that could overwhelm hospitals and result in widespread deaths.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump suggested social distancing guidelines could remain in place through July or August. He added that the success of those measures will rely entirely on the cooperation of the public.
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