The COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented expansion in unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility across states. While more than forty states had modified UI rules by the end of March, not all states responded in the same way. In this article, I summarize the changes to state UI rules in response to the crisis and explore factors that have contributed to the variation in states’ responses.
1. Key changes in states’ UI rules
Worker search requirement. Undertaking weekly job search activities is typically part of the requirement for a worker to continue collecting benefits. However, to promote social distancing and reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, more than forty states have temporarily waived or relaxed the job search requirement. Some—including Maine, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—waived it for all unemployed workers, and some states only waived it for claims related to COVID-19 (including Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina) or new claims approved after certain dates (such as Georgia and Virginia). A few (California, Minnesota, and Oregon) modified the search requirement to online search only.
“Able and available” requirement. Being “able and available” for work is another important criterion for continued collection of UI benefits. Quarantine or illness related to COVID-19 could make workers unable to work, and caring for family with COVID-19 illness or at-home children would make workers unavailable for work. In response to the current unusual situation, some states have modified the concept of “able and available.” Alabama modified the rules to include those who are quarantined, sick, or taking care of family. Delaware and North Dakota treated quarantined or sick workers as if they are on temporary leave (and hence eligible for unemployment benefits). Illinois relaxed the “able” standard by requiring workers to only demonstrate ability to do certain work from home (for example, transcribing or data entry). Kansas assumed affected workers are able and available for work unless they refused suitable work due to illness. Massachusetts made similar concessions and without the requirement to accept suitable jobs unless the situations that prevent workers from working have been resolved. Arizona, Michigan, and New Hampshire extended coverage to workers who are quarantined, sick, caring for sick family, or taking care of at-home children. Oregon considered workers who are sick at home or quarantined and asymptomatic as able to work. West Virginia waived the “able and available” requirement.
Self-employed workers. A few states—such as Kentucky, New Hampshire, and New York— extended coverage to self-employed workers, contract workers, and small business owners, who under usual circumstances are not covered by state UI unless they have worked for an employer in the past 18 months.
Interpretation of “at fault” and “good cause.” Workers who miss work due to fear of the virus but are not under quarantines recommended by a physician, the employer, or the government would be considered quitting without a good cause. While the majority of the states still do not provide coverage to these workers, some states extended coverage to such workers who are expected to return to their original work. Florida and Kentucky considered a worker leaving work due to reasonable risk of exposure to COVID-19 not the worker’s fault. States such as Alabama, Indiana, and Wyoming, on the other hand, explicitly treated asymptomatic workers missing work due to self-quarantine as “at fault” or not good cause.
Additionally, all but eight states usually require a one-week waiting period after the unemployed worker is eligible but before benefits start paying. However, in response to the virus outbreak and in an effort to get checks to unemployed workers fast, more than half of states have temporarily waived the waiting period. Workers on temporary or permanent layoffs due to employer downsizing or closing are eligible under the usual UI rules, once they meet the state’s requirements on work history. All states with partial benefit also cover workers whose hours are reduced due to the virus outbreak.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Changes in State Unemployment Insurance Rules during the COVID-19 Outbreak in the US
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