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Not working while your children learn from home? You might qualify for unemployment: Q & A

Not working while your children learn from home? You might qualify for unemployment: Q & A 

by Brie Zeltner

(Plain Press, October 2020)                 Parents and other caregivers of children who are learning at home while schools are closed– even if for part of the week– can receive weekly cash benefits, regardless of whether they would normally qualify for unemployment. 

     That’s according to guidance released at the end of August from the U.S. Department of Labor about who is eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The program, part of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief plan, is aimed at those affected by the virus who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits.  

     Workers entitled to benefits via PUA, which pays a minimum of $189 per week and often far more, include those

                  •  diagnosed with the coronavirus;

  • caring for someone in the same household who has COVID-19;
  • in quarantine due to the pandemic or
  • who have had to quit their jobs or reduce their work hours due to the virus.

     The new guidance makes clear that parents and other caregivers who have left jobs or lost income in order to care for kids learning from home this school year, and who cannot work from home, are also entitled to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The benefits are not available, however, for those who have chosen to have their children learn from home when in-person classes are being offered. 

     The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services guidance concerning childcare and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is available on their website at: jfs.ohio.gov.

     Zach Schiller, research director for Policy Matters Ohio, a progressive think tank, said he’s been hounding state officials and trying to spread the word in education circles about what could be “a significant benefit” for many parents. A benefit many don’t even know about.

     Parents and caregivers eligible for PUA this fall could receive what they’d be entitled to if they qualified for regular unemployment, plus $300 per week in federal payments. That’s half of what was available earlier in the year, when the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program paid unemployed workers an extra $600 a week. The $600 weekly extra payment expired July 25. 

     Schiller is concerned that many won’t take advantage of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits because the guidance was released so late, and because the application process can be complicated. 

     Here’s what you need to know about PUA if you’re taking care of kids who are learning at home and you’ve lost income or been forced to quit your job:

How do I apply? 

     Online, go to pua.unemployment.ohio.gov, or call the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services at 1-833-604-0774The department encourages applicants to call on weekends, when call volume is lowest. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.

     You’ll need your social security number as well as your children’s dates of birth, address and phone number, driver’s license or state ID number, dates of employment for 2019, reason for unemployment, and a 2019 tax return, if available. 

Do I have to apply and be rejected for regular unemployment benefits first? 

     If you made at least $269 per week in your most recent job and worked 20 weeks or more in the past year, you have to apply for traditional unemployment benefits and receive a determination of eligibility before receiving PUA. If you meet these criteria and quit employment or were fired with good cause and so do not qualify for unemployment, you’ll receive a denial and then may receive PUA, if you qualify. That application process is separate from applying for unemployment.

     Workers can also go ahead and apply for PUA while waiting for a decision on regular unemployment eligibility. 

     This may make it difficult for parents to decide whether to quit a job to take care of their kids, Schiller said. “Who wants to quit their job not being totally sure they can get these benefits?” he said. 

     If you did not earn at least $269 per week and worked more than 20 weeks in the past year, you can skip the unemployment application and apply only to PUA, an ODJFS spokesman said.

How long will PUA benefits last?

     Only until the end of the year. It’s unclear whether the benefits will be extended into the 2021 portion of the school year. The extra $300 federal payments are available retroactively for those who were out of work from August 1 to September 5. 

What if my child attends school in person some days but is home others?

     You are still entitled to some assistance. Parents whose children attend school districts with so-called hybrid learning (part in person, part virtual) can file for unemployment for the days their children are learning from home, but must report their income for the days they are able to work, according to the guidelines.

What questions will I need to answer?

  • You may be asked if you are the primary caregiver for your child who is learning from home. If multiple parents or caregivers are in the household, the person who can’t work because they are helping with school would be eligible for PUA.
  • You may be asked if you have an option to work from home. Many jobs cannot be worked remotely. If your job can be done from home, you may be asked whether taking care of your child prevents you from completing your work at home. If not, you would not be eligible.

Editor’s Note: This story is provided by ideastream as part of special community coverage of COVID-19 and funded by Third Federal Foundation and University Settlement.

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