Updated November 29, 2005
Disaster Unemployment Assistance:
How Families Can Access the Program After Hurricanes Katrina & Rita
National Employment Law Project
1. What is Disaster Unemployment Assistance?
Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), also referred to as Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance, is a federal program that provides temporary financial assistance to individuals unemployed as result of a major disaster declared by the President.
As of September 28, 2005, a federal disaster was declared due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in selected counties located in Alabama (declared August 28th), Mississippi (selected counties declared August 29th, extended to all counties on September 6th), Louisiana (declared August 29th, and extended due in selected counties on September 24th due to Hurricane Rita), Florida (declared August 28th), and Texas (selected counties declared on September 24th). For a current list of the states and counties, see FEMA’s website (http://www.fema.gov/news/disasters.fema).
2. What are the basic eligibility requirements for DUA?
There are two major requirements for an individual to qualify for DUA: 1) the individual must be out of work as a “direct result” of a major disaster; and 2) the individual does not qualify for regular unemployment insurance (UI) from any state. Once found to be eligible for DUA, workers must actively look for work and accept suitable work offered them, not unlike UI recipients. In response to the hurricanes, individial states (including Louisiana) decided to temporarily suspend their "work search" requirements for some workers, both for regular unemployment benefits and DUA. In addition, the individual must show that for every week he or she is collecting DUA, his or her unemployment continues to be the direct result of the disaster, not other factors.
(Note: Starting November 27th, all Louisiana recipients of regular unemployment benefits and DUA must again comply with all weekly reporting requirements, including the state's "work search" rules. For more information on Louisiana's weekly reporting requirements, click here.)
3. How much are DUA benefit payments?
Like UI benefits, DUA benefits are paid weekly, once an application is completed, filed and processed. DUA recipients receive the same weekly benefits that they would have been entitled to had they qualified for UI in the state where they were employed. However, at a minimum, DUA benefits cannot be less than one-half of the state’s average weekly UI benefits (minimum state amounts listed below). The DUA benefits for part-time workers are pro-rated based on the hours they worked as a percent of a 40-hour work week. Note that DUA benefits are reduced by any other wage-loss compensation, including private insurance, Supplemental Unemployment Benefits, worker’s compensation, and a pro-rated amount of a retirement pension or annuity.
Minimum Weekly DUA Benefits
Alabama Florida Louisiana Mississippi
$90 $113 $97 $85.50
4. How long will an individual’s DUA benefits last?
The maximum duration of DUA benefits is 26 weeks. However, an individual’s benefits cannot extend beyond the period when the disaster officially ends, which is six months from the date the federal disaster was declared (that is, late February, in the case of the Hurricane Katrina disaster declared in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida). In addition, the DUA benefits cannot extend beyond when the recipient returns to work or self-employment or beyond the period when the individual’s unemployment is no longer directly related to the disaster.
5. What are some major examples of individuals who can collect DUA?
Those who may be eligible for DUA (and typically could not get regular state UI benefits) include:
• Self-employed individuals who lost their businesses or suffered a substantial interruption of activities as a direct result of a major disaster;
• Unemployed individuals who have become the breadwinner or major supporter of their households due to the death of the head of their household directly related to the disaster;
• Individuals unemployed as a result of an injury caused as a direct result of a disaster;
• Individuals who cannot reach their employment as a result of the disaster;
• Individuals who were scheduled to start work but became unemployed because they no longer have a job as a direct result of a disaster.
6. Are workers who run out of regular unemployment insurance eligible to receive DUA?
No, not if the individual was laid off before the disaster, which means that their unemployment was not originally caused by the disaster according to the federal law. However, if the individual’s unemployment was originally caused by the disaster and his or her regular state unemployment runs out before the disaster period ends, then the individual may qualify for DUA. This is especially important in several states where regular UI benefits often end before the standard 26 weeks, depending on the individual’s income and work history. For example, the minimum duration of regular state unemployment benefits in Alabama is 15 weeks, 13 weeks in Mississippi, and 21 weeks in Louisiana. However, the individual’s DUA benefits will always expire when the 6-month federal disaster period officially ends. That effectively means that individuals cannot collect more than 26 weeks of regular state unemployment and DUA combined.
7. Are workers who did not work in the disaster area also eligible for DUA if their unemployment was still directly caused by the disaster?
There are very limited situations where workers outside the disaster area can qualify for DUA if they were laid off due to their employer’s loss of substantial revenue from contracts with businesses located in the disaster area. However, according to federal regulations adopted after the September 11th attacks, the employer or self-employed individual must have received at least a “majority of its revenue or income from an entity that was either damaged or destroyed in the disaster.” In addition, the individual must continually establish that their unemployment remains directly related to the major disaster.
8. What are the deadlines to apply for DUA?
To qualify for DUA, individuals must normally apply no later than 30 days after the disaster was officially announced by the state (Note: A previous version of this fact sheet incorrectly indicated that the 30-day dealine began from the date that the disaster was declared by the President, but the relevant date begins instead from when the state officially announces that DUA is available). However, on September 26th, the U.S. Department of Labor announed that it is extending the DUA filing deadline until November 30th in the case of those rendered jobless by Hurricane Katrina. Late applications can be accepted, but only if “good cause” is shown for the late filing. However, under no circumstances can DUA applications be accepted after the disaster period ends.
9. What information is necessary to verify an applicant's work and earnings?
The DUA application requires proof of employment and earnings, as well as a Social Security Number. The proof of employment is due no more than 21 days after the filing of the application. However, on September 26th, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it extended the deadline to 90 days to provide the paperwork in support of a DUA application. For self-employed applicants, copies of tax returns are required as proof of income and self-employment. If verification of employment or other documents requested as part of the DUA application are not available, a sworn statement including other forms of verification can be submitted. Interim DUA payments can take place while the necessary documentation is gathered. However, the failure to submit required documentation after the deadline may result in a benefit overpayment which can be recovered from the individual.
10. Where can an individual apply for DUA?
Each state may process DUA somewhat differently. Most states will process applications by telephone, as part of their automated telephone claims taking process for regular state UI benefits, and some state DUA applications may be processed via the Internet. If an individual is having problems filing for DUA directly by telephone or other means with the state where the disaster occurred, the individual can file an “interstate” claim in another state where he or she has relocated. These are claims that are processed by another state, but otherwise still involve most of the same rules that apply to workers applying for DUA in their home state.
For the latest information on how to file for DUA in states declared disaster areas as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and in neighboring states where evacuees are relocating, we recommend that individuals and their advocates regularly check recent postings on the state’s Labor Department’s website (which can be accessed via http://ows.doleta.gov/map.asp) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s website listing states services available in response to Hurricane Katrina (http://www.doleta.gov/Katrina/FACTSHEET.cfm).
Below is a listing of the DUA application contact numbers posted by several of the impacted states. We caution, however, that some of these contact numbers may not always provide all the necessary application information. Thus, we urge workers to regularly consult the state and federal websites referenced above for current information.
Alabama: 1-800-361-4524 or 1-866-767-8103
Louisiana: 1-800-818-7811 or 1-866-783-5567 or 1-800-LAHELPU
The National Employment Law Project is a non-profit organization that advocates for unemployed workers. The information provided with this fact sheet is based on the best resources we have available on the DUA program. However, it should not be relied upon as a source of official government information on the DUA program.