Who is eligible for unemployment? Experts weigh in

Milwaukee unemployment rate hits new record low
Posted at 6:43 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 11:20:43-04

As the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) continues fielding roughly five million calls per week, people are telling us they still aren't receiving benefits.

The DWD answered questions last week during a Facebook Live, and this week, TMJ4 News got more questions answered.

One looming question this week was around eligibility.

"Employees are eligible if they are essentially unable to work through no fault of their own," Samantha Huddleston, a local attorney, said. "Meaning, if you were terminated without cause because there is no work left for you to do."

While this is true for most cases, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

One viewer asked, as an independent contractor, can they file for unemployment?

"Traditionally, no," Huddleston said. "Now, because of what's called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), you can. The whole point of this being, we're trying to help as many people as possible, and the government is trying to do that."

Huddleston says there is a separate section of the DWD website to file for the PUA program, and this could apply for an independent contractor, those who are self-employed or if you have a limited work history.

Another question was about eligibility if you're working full time but have had your wages cut.

"There is not an eligibility for unemployment to cover that gap in pay," Huddleston said. "Employers do have the right, in terms of keeping employees working and trying to make payroll, some have to cut their rate of pay, let's say where an employee was making $15 per hour, and now, maybe they're making $12 per hour. Because you are still working and your employer is still paying you, you are making those wages, and you are not considered unemployed."

With some of the Safer at Home orders being relaxed, some people may be heading back to work soon. Huddleston says that doesn't mean your back pay in unemployment won't still come through. That also applies to the $600 people will be getting through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.

However, what do you do if your job says they're opening, but you don't feel comfortable going back to work? Unfortunately, Huddleston says, you can not continue receiving unemployment benefits. However, there are some exceptions.

"If you do have a quarantine order from a medical professional or can not return due to situations due to your health or other protective reasons like caring for children, then there may be some eligibility there," Huddleston said.

For others, they are now weeks into not having work and are in desperate need of the unemployment money. Bills are piling up, and it's unknown when they could be receiving help. Luckily, Community Advocates says there is help to get through.

"We're currently offering help lines for rent and energy assistance due to COVID-19," Julie Kerksick with Community Advocates said.

Community Advocates also says there are resources for folks trying to get back to work.

"Every region has a workforce development agency," Kerksick said. "In Milwaukee, ours is Employ Milwaukee. They are actually putting out a three-week online course, and they still have some openings. It's called career works."

Kerksick says, when the unemployment benefits do come through, she wants everyone to understand these benefits are considered taxable income. So that means next year, by April 15th, you will be responsible for the taxes on the money you receive.

"You can automatically have 10 percent for Federal and five percent for state withheld from the benefits," Kerksick said. "I can't say what each individual should do but, think about that. All of that income will be taxable in 2021."

DWD says they are currently hiring hundreds of new people and looking to sign a new call center to help with the influx of calls. They should be up and running by the end of May.

If you need assistance with your rent or energy bill, click here for additional resources.

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