Most states are now under full or partial shut-downs which means that hundreds of thousands of service industry workers are out of work. While unemployment insurance benefits will not replace anyone’s regular pay, the program is a good start. Unemployment varies in rules and check-size from state to state, but there are some common elements. We talked to a dozen bar and restaurant industry workers about their experiences filing. Here are their tips for weathering the process.
Unemployment is literally a bureaucratic, government program and initial filings typically involve a robo-operator or website—not a person. So, be ready to navigate some red tape. Make sure that you have all your key info, like social security number, employer’s legal name, a note of dismissal (if you have one), and last year’s tax return an/or W2 ready.
Remember, you can only claim on what you report. So, if you’ve been stashing cash, trying to dodge taxes (which we’re obliged to note is illegal) for years, now is not the time to bring up what you actually make.
And, stay calm.
Try Off Hours
With so many people joining the unemployment rolls over the last two weeks, the unemployment systems are swamped. Multiple filers have reported that the phone system or website crashed while they were trying to file.
So, experts recommend that you give a call during off-hours. Don’t expect smooth sailing at 10am, but 10pm will likely yield better results.
File Your Weekly Claim
In most states, “filing for unemployment” is only the first step. After you have been deemed eligible (a process that is currently expedited), you still must file a claim weekly. Basically, this is you telling the state, “Yes, I’m still unemployed and seeking work.” (In most states,) only then will the state send you a check. Again, you must do this every week.
If You Have The Option, Go Electronic
Some states will simply issue you a debit card and refill it after every claim. Others work on direct deposit, but many still offer the option of a paper check. If offered the paper check option, don’t take it. Electronic payments are much easier to track and as coronavirus manifests among postal workers. you don’t want to be dependent on timely delivery.
Rely On Community
Your coworkers (and everyone you know in the industry) are likely filing for unemployment as well. If you’re stuck or confused, talk to them; someone has likely encountered this issue before.
Again, Stay Calm & Patient
Unemployment teams are in the weeds. Try to show them some of the understanding that you’d like if positions were flipped.
Under normal circumstances, many systems would require proof that you are seeking a new job; in-person sessions; and several weeks of processing time. Due to the current crisis, these perquisites were waived in many cases, but remember that the situation is new for everyone involved.
And, if a reminder is needed… remember that yelling at a computerized phone operator will not help. So, make yourself comfortable, put your earbuds in, pour yourself a glass of wine, and expect to spend some time get that initial filing done.