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Out of work due to coronavirus crisis? See Washington's new unemployment rules

The federal CARES act expanded unemployment benefits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are tips to apply in Washington state under the new rules.

Washington state expects a "tsunami" of applicants for unemployment benefits this weekend, as the new CARES Act is rolled out.

For people who have lost jobs or have reduced hours because of the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some tips and answers to frequently asked questions to help you prepare to apply for unemployment.

What are the changes?

The expansion of unemployment benefits was passed by Congress as part of the federal $2 trillion coronavirus response bill. The three main changes are:

  • Independent contractors, self-employed workers and those with fewer than 680 hours worked in the previous year now will be eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • The weekly benefit will increase by $600 for anybody on unemployment insurance. 
  • The benefit period will expand from 26 weeks to 39 weeks, for job seekers who need it.

Also, Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-at-home order temporarily waived the requirement to search for work or perform job search activities, though that requirement will be reinstated when the stay-at-home order is lifted.

How can I get ready to apply?

Suzi LeVine, commissioner for the state Employment Security Department, gave the following four tips for getting ready to apply:

Sign up for the state's action alerts

The Employment Security Department will provide instructions and updates through a mailing list so applicants can be better prepared.

Use the state's eligibility checker to see if you meet the requirements

The state has a checklist that you can use to see if your circumstances meet the unemployment criteria under the state's regular unemployment rules, or the new rules under the coronavirus expansion.

Get all your information ready using the application checklist

The Employment Security Department has an application checklist for information you will need to know before applying for unemployment benefits. This information includes dates and address for previous employers, personal information and more. The entire checklist of information you will need is here.

Sign up for a SecureAccess account BEFORE you start your application

You can take care of creating a login before assembling everything you need to apply, to get that step out of the way.

What else do I need to know?

LeVine also addressed issues that applicants may face when applying for unemployment under the new CARES Act rules.

The website says I'm "ineligible" after I filled out the form, but the checklist says I'm eligible.

LeVine says that people should ignore that message, and click on the link to apply for the unemployment assistance. LeVine said this glitch was a "trade-off" in order to prioritize getting systems in place to get people their money faster.

"That's not the optimal experience and I recognize that," LeVine said.

She said ESD staff would be working through the weekend on upgrading the state's systems.

I was self-employed or an independent contractor, so how will my weekly benefit be determined?

Independent contractors and self-employed workers will need to upload their wage data to the Employment Security Department, and ESD staff will review it to verify it and determine how much the applicant is eligible for per week. But the state in the meantime will provide the minimum weekly benefit.

If the person is eligible for more than the minimum, ESD will pay the difference retroactively when wages have been verified.

What is the minimum benefit? When will I get it?

The minimum benefit will be $235 from the state unemployment assistance program, plus $600 from the CARES act. That will come to $835 a week. 

For people who qualify for unemployment it will take an average of 3 to 5 days for checks to arrive and 24 to 48 hours with direct deposit. People who were already receiving unemployment benefits don't have to do anything new. 

If I was denied benefits in the past few weeks, should I try again?

LeVine said that there are people who were denied benefits because they were not eligible under the regular unemployment rules, but who are newly eligible under the CARES act. Now that the state's system has been updated, they may reapply and the benefits will be retroactive to when they lost their jobs.

MORE TIPS ON APPLYING FOR UNEMPLOYMENT: 

Extra $600 in unemployment benefits may start Saturday in Washington amid coronavirus crisis

VIEW | CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE ON KING 5