Unemployment Insurance Protections in Response to COVID-19: State Developments

On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a guidance clarifying what measures states can take to improve access to unemployment insurance (UI) for workers who lose their jobs or are temporarily separated from work due to the coronavirus. Below is a summary of the most helpful state provisions adopted as of March 24, 2020. NELP also has published a set of recommendations for state reform and a summary of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which incentivizes states to adopt certain minimum reforms, including waiving the waiting week and work search requirements that limit access to UI. States are moving quickly to adopt changes, so we caution that this document may not be comprehensive, although we will update it regularly. Please contact Maurice Emsellem (emsellem@nelp.org) or Paul Sonn (psonn@nelp.org) if you have information about additional actions states have taken to expand unemployment benefits in response to the pandemic.

States Have Adopted a Range of Helpful Policies to Expand Access to UI Benefits

  • Over the past week, at least 19 states have taken action (either legislatively, by executive order, or by administrative authority) to waive the one-week waiting period that all but eight states (GA, IA, MD, MI, NV, NJ, VT, WY) impose for most workers to collect UI benefits.
  • Especially comprehensive executive orders were issued by governors in Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, and other states, covering the waiting week and work search waivers and other issues. For example, Louisiana and Ohio indicated that COVID-19 benefits would not be “charged” to the employer’s “experience rating,” and Michigan’s executive order improved the work-sharing program and required the state to provide 26 weeks of UI (rather than the 20 weeks provided under the state’s current law). At the governor’s direction, Vermont’s agency has order expedited processing of claims.
  • Massachusetts and Washington State have proposed and adopted emergency regulations, which include strong language clarifying the rights of workers to collect UI while in “standby” status and awaiting a determination to return to work from their employers; and several states (Maine, Maryland) and the District of Columbia passed emergency legislation.
  • Several states (including California and Washington State) have developed especially well-designed outreach material, flyers, and FAQs communicating, in clear and simple terms, workers’ rights to access UI and other benefits in response to COVID-19.
  • The governors of California, New York, and Washington State requested a “major disaster” declaration under the Stafford Act for their states, which was granted by the President (a determination is pending on whether Disaster Unemployment Assistance will be approved).
  • New Hampshire’s governor issued an executive order directing that “self-employed” people will be eligible for UI benefits for reasons related to COVID-19.
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