The rapid spread of COVID-19 and its effects on the United States are severe and uncertain. As colleges across the country transition to online classes, concerns grow among working students regarding their sources of income, with many navigating unemployment for the first time.
Students working part-time or full-time are eligible for unemployment benefits if they are not receiving paid leave, paid time off, have been laid off, had to quit their jobs as a direct result of COVID-19 or if their employer is out of business. Typically, to qualify for unemployment, the Employment Security Department requires a minimum of 680 hours worked during an employee’s base year. However, under the circumstances of COVID-19, the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act allows students to apply for unemployment even if they haven’t fulfilled the hours requirement. In efforts to support more unemployed individuals and families, the “waiting week” is no longer in effect for claims filed after March 8, 2020.
To apply for unemployment, students should visit the ESD webpage online. Documents and forms required to apply include a social security number or employment authorization number, the business names and mailing addresses of all places of employment within the last 18 months and any necessary bank account information.
Those seeking unemployment will also need to create a SecureAccess Washington account to access additional online services through other Washington state agencies. Information for students working for a union, a part of the military or a federal employee can be found on the Washington state’s ESD webpage.
After completing the application, students will receive a form in the mail stating if they have qualified for unemployment. The form will also include how much aid they will receive and how long they can collect benefits, all of which differ from state to state.
On the national and federal level, providing economic relief and aid remain the priority for Congress during the pandemic circumstances. Under the CARES Act, undergraduate students who have filed as independent on their 2019 tax returns will receive a one-time $1,200 stimulus check if they earn less than $75,000. However, any students who filed as dependent on a parent or guardian’s tax return do not qualify for the stimulus check. Furthermore, Congress passed a $2.2 trillion aid package, now signed into law, which will give an additional $600 check weekly through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. Unemployed students can collect these weekly checks for up to four months in addition to state unemployment benefits.
For those students who have lost work-study jobs, they may be eligible to receive multiple payments, scholarships, or vouchers for the remaining school year. The amount provided in aid will be in accordance with a student’s award amount, which can be found on the FAFSA award letter. Students may also delay payments on their federal loans, interest-free, until September 2020.
For students who will not be completing the remainder of the academic year, the CARES Act has recommended colleges waive limits on aid packages, such as loans and Pell Grants. This measure ensures that the money used from a student’s federal direct loan or Pell Grant for the semester won’t count towards their lifetime limit on student aid. Students in emergency circumstances may also request more financial aid. If a family’s financial circumstances have changed due to COVID-19, students may appeal their award on the FAFSA website.
As new unemployment measures transition into laws nationwide, Governor Jay Inslee has stated he will be supporting more economic relief programs for Washington residents including temporary halts on evictions for renters, cash assistance for low-income families, and providing free school meals even during the closures of schools through the remaining academic year.