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FAQ: Pandemic unemployment assistance

As the economy experiences sharp disruption from the effects of COVID-19, Congress has significantly expanded unemployment insurance benefits and eligibility for the duration of the pandemic.

  • Most laid-off and furloughed workers, including those new to the job market, will be eligible for unemployment insurance. In addition, eligibility for unemployment benefits is extended by 13 weeks, from 26 weeks to a total of 39 weeks.
  • In addition, the federal government will provide a supplemental Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 per week, on top of your state unemployment benefit, to anyone who is eligible for unemployment benefits. The additional Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 per week will be provided to all workers who receive unemployment benefits from March 29 to July 25.
  • This additional federal unemployment benefit does not impact your eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program or Medicaid.
  • No matter your job status -- full time, part time, employee, contractor, self-employed, household worker, or anything in between -- if you are out of work as a result of the Governor’s stay home order issued on March 23, you are eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Work search requirements are optional for all claimants until further notice. Public health experts all agree the most important step we can take to contain the virus is to stay home.

I've recieved plenty of questions on the benefits included in the CARES Act, and I wanted to share some of the ones I've heard most frequently with you:

Expanded pandemic unemployment benefits and eligibility 

The CARES Act expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits to include contractors, self-employed, and other workers affected by the pandemic. When will ESD start accepting applications for COVID-19 expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits?

As of Saturday, April 18th, the expanded unemployment benefits and eligibility included in the CARES Act are now online on the ESD website. If you qualify under the expanded eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits, you will now be able to file your claim. You will be receive unemployment benefits retroactive to your first week of eligibility.

Who is eligible for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you fall within one of the following categories, you may qualify for unemployment benefits under the expanded eligibility during the pandemic passed in the CARES Act:

  • You are out of work or working less than normal because of COVID-19
  • You were recently denied unemployment because you hadn’t worked 680 hours
  • You worked, but worked fewer than 680 hours in Washington in the past 18 months
  • Your workplace is closed because of an official order or a case of COVID-19, and you are unable to work from home
  • You are self-employed
  • You were diagnosed with COVID-19, severely ill and unable to work
  • You are showing symptoms of COVID-19 and awaiting test results or seeking medical attention
  • You are at high-risk during the COVID-19 pandemic AND a medical provider has told you to stay home
  • You are caring for a family member or dependent who has COVID-19
  • You have a family member or dependent who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking medical attention
  • You have a family member or dependent who is high risk, lives with you, and is staying home for their protection
  • You are caring for a high-risk person who has been advised to stay home for their protection
  • Your child’s school has been closed and you are unable to find child care

While ESD will make all final determinations on a case-by-case basis, remember that if you are approved by ESD to receive an unemployment benefit of any amount, you will automatically receive the additional Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 per week.

Who is eligible for the additional $600 per week? When can I expect to receive this benefit?

If you are approved to receive unemployment benefits of any amount from ESD during the COVID-19 crisis, you will receive the additional Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 per week.

As of Saturday, April 18th, ESD has begun processing the additional federal pandemic unemployment benefit. This benefit will be paid retroactively to your first week of eligibility, beginning the week of March 29th.

Millions of people across the country are applying for unemployment benefits. Will the funds for unemployment benefits run out?

The CARES Act guarantees that you will receive the full amount of unemployment benefits you are eligible for. Regardless of when you submit your application or when your application is approved, you will be paid the full amount of benefits you are eligible for retroactively.

My hours have been reduced but I have not officially been laid off yet. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

Under the expanded eligibility from the CARES Act, you are likely eligible for unemployment benefits.

Applying for unemployment benefits

What do I need to apply for unemployment benefits?

Before you apply for unemployment benefits, you need to gather the following information to complete your application:

  • Personal information: Your name, Social Security number, birthday and contact information
  • Your complete work history for the past 18 months, including: Employer name, address, phone number, start and end date of employment for each employer
  • Bank information: Your bank account and routing number, if you want your benefits delivered via direct deposit

If you are in the military, a federal employee, or work in a union, you may require additional materials. Please refer to this ESD page for a comprehensive list of materials you’ll need. 

How do I apply for unemployment benefits?

Once you have gathered the required materials, you can apply for benefits either online or by phone. ESD strongly recommends you apply online via a laptop or desktop computer. You will need to create a “SecureAccess Washington” account to create and manage your application.

Call volume has increased by 1000% since the pandemic began, and ESD only recommends calling if you have not heard back on the status of your application after several days.

When can I expect to receive my unemployment benefits?

You can expect to receive your unemployment benefits within 7-10 days. Traditionally, ESD has a one-week waiting period, but this has been waived for the duration of the pandemic to get distressed Washingtonians assistance as quickly as possible.

My application and weekly claim ask if I am searching for a job. Do I need to be searching for a job to receive unemployment benefits?

No. For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the job search requirements for unemployment benefits are waived. While the ESD application may ask you if you are searching for a job, you do not need to in order to receive unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Public health experts stress that the most effective way to contain the virus and its spread is to practice safe social distancing.

Do I need to file my 2019 taxes in order to apply for unemployment benefits? Can I use a paystub instead to calculate my 2019 wages?

For ESD to verify your wages in your unemployment application, you will need to provide documentation that shows what you earned in the last twelve months. Your 2019 tax returns will satisfy this requirement.

However, if you have not filed your taxes yet this year, there are other forms of documentation that are accepted such as a 1099 or paystub. Your 2018 tax return will not be accepted for wage verification.

I am already receiving unemployment benefits. Will I still get the extra 13 weeks of eligibility and $600 per week benefit? How do I access these benefits through my existing ESD account?

Nearly everyone already on unemployment or going on it during this crisis will have 13 more weeks added to their claim for a maximum of 39 weeks. Most will also get $600 on top of their previous benefit.

To receive Pandemic Unemployment Compensation: You will not need to take additional action other than filing your weekly claim, and the additional $600 weekly benefit will be paid retroactively.

To receive extended unemployment benefits eligibility: As of Saturday, April 18th, you are now able to apply through your ESD account for the additional 13 weeks of extended benefits. You will not need to claim these additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits until you have exhausted the initial non-CARES Act benefits.

If you have already exhausted your benefits from a claim that expired on or after July 6, 2019, continue to file your weekly claim and you will be paid retroactively. You can learn more about extending your benefits on this ESD page.

If I begin working during the pandemic while collecting unemployment benefits, will I still receive my retroactive unemployment benefits (including the $600 per week Pandemic Unemployment Compensation)?

Yes, you will receive the full amount of benefits you are due retroactive to your date of eligibility.

In addition, even if you do begin working again, you may still qualify for reduced unemployment benefits. As long as you are eligible for a benefit of at least $1 per week, you will also receive the additional $600 per week from the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit.

Difficulty accessing the ESD website or phone lines

I am having difficult setting up my SecureAccess Washington (SAW) account needed to apply for unemployment benefits. What should I do?

You may already have a SAW account. This is the most common issue experienced by people unable to create a new SAW account, and you can check to see if you already have a SAW account created at this link.

Another common issue is that you may be unable access your SAW account or have forgotten your password. You do not need to call the ESD tech support desk to reset your account. Instead, you can reset your password through this link.

For other common issues with setting up your account, I encourage you to watch the ESD’s video tutorial on how to create your SAW account and referencing the ESD’s technical support page.

The website is overloaded and I can’t submit my application. What should I do?

ESD is experiencing unprecedented traffic and this has strained their website’s capacity. Tens of thousands of people have successfully applied for expanded unemployment assistance, but with such high demand, I know that many more are still having issues.

ESD recommends logging onto their website and submitting your application on off-hours, or to try again later in the week. Even if you cannot get through immediately, you will be paid all benefits you are eligible for retroactively.

I can’t get through on the ESD phone lines, and I’m worried I’ll miss out on some of my benefits. What should I do?

ESD will pay benefits retroactively to the date of your eligibility. Due to the unprecedented call volume and to help you get assistance as quickly as possible, the ESD strongly encourages you to only call if you have a specific question about your claim that is not answered on their website.

If you have specific questions regarding your unemployment benefits, you can also submit them online through your SAW account at this link.

Benefits for self-employed and independent contractors

I am self-employed. Do I qualify for unemployment assistance under the CARES Act? How do I access these benefits?

Self-employed workers, independent contractors, and other workers whose wages and hours are not reported to ESD are now included within expanded unemployment eligibility. To be eligible for expanded unemployment benefits you must:

  • First, apply for regular unemployment benefits and be denied. This is required by law. If you have not already applied and been denied, read about eligibility requirements on the ESD website.
  • Have worked some hours in your base year and be unemployed due to COVID-19. Your base year is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the week you apply.

As of Saturday, April 18th, you are now able to apply for unemployment benefits through the same ESD portal as other unemployed workers.

If I am self-employed or an independent contractor, what additional documents do I need to apply?

If you self-employed or an independent contractor, you will need to provide proof of income, such as your federal tax return or 1099 form. Your benefit will be approved based on your normal income.

If your application is approved and your benefit is at least $1 per week, you will also automatically receive the additional Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $600 per week from April 4 to July 25.

How long will it take for self-employed or independent contractors to receive benefits?

While ESD has employer verification data for Washington businesses, ESD needs to verify wages of independent contractors and self-employed workers to protect taxpayers from fraud. As a result, a typical application will take up to three weeks to be processed.

However, to get you money as quickly as possible, ESD will pay the minimum amount you are eligible after you’re approved and you submit your first weekly claim. As a reminder, if your unemployment application is approved for any amount, you will automatically receive an additional $600 per week in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

In addition, all benefits you were eligible for but missed during the processing period will be paid retroactively.

I am a sole proprietor but have not drawn a salary. Am I still eligible for unemployment benefits?

Yes, you qualify for unemployment benefits under the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance eligibility. Your benefits will be at the minimum level ($235 per week), but will also automatically qualify for the additional $600 per week Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.