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Denied unemployment benefits? Here are your options

December 1, 2020, 11:30 AM UTC

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As cases of COVID-19 rise across the country, some states are reissuing lockdown measures. And as these lockdown measures spike, layoffs are too: Last week 778,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims, up 9% from two weeks ago.

But not all of these unemployed Americans will see their benefit claims approved. If your claim does get denied, here’s what to do next.

What should you do if your unemployment claim gets denied?

Before picking a remedy for a denied jobless claim, applicants need to find out why they were denied. They should get a “notice of determination,” which spells out the specifics. An employer could have blocked it based on information he or she provided to your state: Perhaps the former employer said you failed a drug test, or you quit your job without good cause. On the flip side, you may have just lacked the proper information in your application.

Knowing why your claim was blocked is the first step to fighting a denied claim.

Should you reapply or appeal following a denied unemployment claim?

If you’re denied because you’re missing information, then it might make more sense to just reapply or update the initial application. The plus side to reapplying is that it’s usually faster than the appeals process.

But if the denial was the result of a bigger issue, like an employer challenging a claim, then going through the appeals process is probably the right path. (Employers are known to fight claims at times since they can impact how much they pay into UI.)

What does the unemployment appeals process entail?

Americans denied an unemployment claim have the right to an appeal—which doesn’t require a lawyer. This process varies by state, but usually the denied party has around 30 days to start the appeals process. During the appeal, denied applicants continue to file weekly claims, and if they win the appeal they are back-paid the benefits. In Washington State an administrative law judge will be assigned to the case, but appealing applicants can participate in the hearings via telephone.

But there is also an appeals process for employers. If you get unemployment benefits, your employer usually has the right to file its own appeal if it believes you are ineligible.

More people are eligible for unemployment benefits. Whom does this include?

The March stimulus bill passed by Congress expanded who is eligible for unemployment benefits. This includes jobless freelancers, independent contractors, and self-employed business owners. Additionally, some states have waived work-search requirements and typical waiting periods.

The bad news? The expanded eligibility, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, expires at the end of the year.

And unless Congress acts, at the end of the year unemployment benefit coverage will go back to 26 weeks, down from the 39 weeks granted through the CARES Act.

Will Congress pass more enhanced employment benefits?

The stimulus bill passed in March provided an additional $600 weekly in unemployment insurance benefits to everyone who qualifies for his or her state’s program. But those enhanced payments ran out in late July.

For months Democratic and Republican leaders have failed to reach an agreement for another COVID-19 relief package, which would include a replacement or extension of those enhanced unemployment benefits.

So when should we finally expect a deal? Staffers on Capitol Hill expect that breakthrough to come shortly after the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20. But if an agreement does come, there is no guarantee it would include enhanced unemployment benefits—let alone another $600 payment. That’s because while many Democrats favor a bigger bill, Republicans by and large think the economy is in better shape than it was last spring and have objected to benefits that might serve as a disincentive, keeping Americans from looking for work.

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