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Answering your questions: unemployment benefits

Posted at 12:40 PM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 10:06:39-04

BOISE, Idaho — We're now officially more than a year into a global pandemic, and the state of Idaho has begun to rebound from the effects--but according to the Idaho Department of Labor, there are still Idahoans struggling with unemployment caused by COVID-19.

According to the latest report from the department, Idaho's unemployment rate was 3.4 percent in January--much lower than the historic high in April 2020, which was 11.6 percent.

Our newsroom at Idaho News 6 has gotten several calls from people saying they've seen an increase in their benefits being denied, so we spoke with Director Janie Revier to get some answers.

Key Legislation

Before we get into unemployment, Revier explains we first need to know how those benefits are funded. Up until March 14, 2021, current COVID-19 assistance was funded through a law called the Continued Assistance Act.

The Continued Assistance Act essentially worked as an extension, allowing funding and COVID-19 assistance that was provided through the CARES Act of 2020 to continue. However, the Continued Assistance act came with some changes.

Changes

Revier says the Continued Assistance Act extended COVID-19 assistance benefits, but it also came with changes for eligibility requirements.

"The biggest one is a requirement for additional documentation to be eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance," Revier explained. "We're doing our best to administer the benefits, and it's important to remember not everyone is eligible."

It's those changes the Department of Labor says might be impacting your claim.

So, we reach the big question: how do you know if you're eligible for unemployment benefits? There are several factors to consider.

What are Idaho’s unemployment monetary requirements?

  • You must have sufficient earnings in the base period
  • You must have worked and been paid wages for employment in at least two of the quarters in the base period
    • AND have been paid at least $1,872 in wages in one of those quarters
    • AND the total wages paid in your base period must equal one and a quarter times your highest quarter wages

What are some of the reasons I could be denied benefits?

According to the Department of Labor, you have to do certain things each week to receive benefits.

"You must be ready, willing and able to take any offer of suitable work," the website states.

To be eligible, the Department of Labor lists these requirements on their website:

  • ABLE TO WORK: You must be physically able to work full time.
    • Communicate with the department if you cannot work because of illness, injury or some other physical or mental condition.
    • Most health problems will not affect your claim as long as you are looking for the type of full-time work you can do.
    • You may be disqualified if you have to refuse work due to illness.
  • AVAILABLE FOR WORK: You must be ready to go to work.
    • You cannot place unrealistic personal restrictions on such things as the hours you will work, the pay you will accept, locations you prefer to work and jobs you will take.
    • You must be willing and able to accept both full-time and part-time work in jobs you can do during all the usual hours and days these jobs are done. Limiting shifts, days, or distance you will travel to work can make you ineligible.
    • Availability for work is very important. For example, you must have child care arranged, a way to get to work, and no other personal commitments that prevent you from accepting a job.
  • ACTIVELY SEEKING WORK: You must try to find full-time work each week in accordance with the work-seeking requirements you received when you filed your claim.
    • This applies even if you are working part-time. You must be willing to accept part-time work while waiting for full-time work to become available.
      • Actively seeking work means you must personally contact employers who hire people with your job skills.
    • If you cannot find your normal kind of work, you must look for any other kind of work you can do. You must expand your work search and avoid re-contacting the same employer every week.
    • As your period of unemployment lengthens you may be required to look for another kind of work, accept lower pay or search in other locations for a job.
    • You MUST keep a personal record of your job contacts. This must include the employer name, address, phone number, person contacted, date of contact and the results of the job contact. The department might ask you to provide your work-search record (in person or online) to verify your contacts.
    • Keep looking for work as long as you are unemployed. If the Idaho Department of Labor offers you a job referral for suitable work, you may be denied benefits if you refuse to accept the referral or fail to make contact with the employer.
    • If you are job attached, you must maintain contact with your employer and return as soon as work becomes available.
    • If you have not been required to make work search contacts because you have a date to return to work or you obtain work through a union, you must notify us if these conditions no longer apply.
  • OUT OF WORK THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN: You must have been laid off due to lack of work, voluntarily quit with good cause connected with the employment or been discharged but not for misconduct.
    • If your reason for separation is other than lack of work, a written determination regarding your eligibility will be issued to you.

"If you're not employer attached then you are work seeking and you need to look for work and submit two different work seeking events each week," Revier explained.

Unemployment Fraud on the rise

According to the department, Idaho is one of several states that's seen an increase in scammers filing fraudulent unemployment claims.

Revier explains scammers will steal someone's identity and file for benefits under their name. In order to prevent this, the department has partnered with ID.Me. Anyone applying for benefits must first verify their identity through the online system.

If you think you've been a victim of identity theft, the Idaho Department of Labor has a specific email account dedicated to fraud questions.

What's next?

Funding from the Continued Assistance Act has been used up as of March 14. Now, benefits will be funded by the recently signed American Rescue Plan. Revier says so far, the eligibility requirements won't change much between the two.

"As of yet, what we've seen with the American Rescue Plan Act, we have not seen significant changes from the changes that were made to the cares act with the Continued Assistance Act," explained Revier.

For more resources, and answers to frequently asked questions, click here.