With many cities and towns being put under heavy restrictions due to the Novel Coronavirus, many people are now finding themselves temporarily out of a job or receiving much less income than before. While the government attempts to put together a larger package of benefits to help all Americans, there are a few existing programs that can help get unemployed people through these tough times.
First, it is important to note that while there are federal guidelines for unemployment programs, each state varies wildly in how benefits are paid and who is eligible for them. In this post, we will explore how Massachusetts residents should approach the process.
While Massachusetts’ unemployment assistance program normally utilizes a one-week waiting period before benefits are paid, that rule has been suspended due to the pandemic. Additionally, benefits are now available for people whose employers have temporarily shut down but expect to reopen. If you fall into this category, you must keep in regular contact with your employer and complete any work that the employer offers. Additionally, once you qualify for benefits, you will most likely have to certify that you continue to be eligible for benefits each week that you are out of work.
While you receive Massachusetts unemployment benefits, you can still work part time / reduced hours as well. However, any earnings greater than 1/3 of your unemployment benefit amount will be deducted from your benefit. You can see more details of this situation by clicking here: MA Unemployment - Part Time Work
With the increased volume of people applying for unemployment benefits, the best way to apply for benefits is to click here: MA Unemployment Application. This website is also being inundated with requests for unemployment benefits, so you may experience a slow connection or website issues while filling out your application but applying through the website is still the best option at this point.
Also, while filling out the application, there will likely be a question regarding whether or not you are still looking for work. If you answer No to this question, it is possible the website will tell you that you are not eligible for benefits, however, the looking for work requirement has been lifted during this emergency period. In general, if you are looking for work or expect to be hired back by your previous employer once the shutdown ends, it would be best to select Yes for this question to avoid any hassles.
A detailed up-to-date guide for how to navigate through the unemployment applications can be found here: MA Unemployment Application Guide.
Outside of unemployment benefits, it is highly likely that you will also lose any employer provided health insurance as well. At this point there have been no emergency provisions made to allow unemployed people to keep their current health plan, but in this scenario, you still have two options. You could either apply for 18 months of coverage under your employer’s plan using COBRA, or you could apply for a policy through the Massachusetts Health Connector.
COBRA is a good option because it allows you to keep the same plan you had while you were employed. However, you will need to pay the full cost of the plan yourself, which in some cases may be prohibitive. Alternatively, applying for a policy through the Massachusetts Health Connector can be a complicated process which involves comparing plans across many different insurers and coverage levels, but you may find a plan that works for you at a price lower than COBRA coverage. The MA health insurance program has recently opened an enrollment window through April 25th for anyone who needs coverage due to COVID 19, including those who have not been laid off. You can apply for benefits by following this link: MA Health Connector
There are additional benefits that may end along with your employment, including life insurance and disability insurance. Finding good alternative coverage for these two types of policies can get quite complicated and can depend on whether or not you can obtain coverage from other sources.
For further details regarding how the pandemic is affecting unemployment and other employer benefits, please visit the following links: