A sign reads "come in, we're hiring."
More than 150,000 unemployment claims have been filed in the District since the start of the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Geralt / Pixabay.

As D.C. residents continue to deal with the health and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, assistance programs like unemployment can be a crucial resource. 

Between local and national programs and a series of benefit extensions, there’s a lot of avenues for D.C. workers to receive benefits to make up for lost jobs or hours worked. More than 150,000 claims have already been filed, and while the Department of Employment Services (DOES) is facing criticism for its administration of the programs, they are continuing to process claims and provide benefits. Here’s what those benefits could be, and how to access them.

For traditional workers:

 

If you are not yet on any form of unemployment and qualify for traditional unemployment programs, you are still eligible for the pre-pandemic form of benefits: unemployment insurance (UI). UI requires applicants to be out of work or have reduced hours through no fault of their own, be able and available to work (aside from any COVID-19 restrictions), and meet specific wage requirements over the last 12 months, including earning at least $1,950 in the last year. People who are self-employed, independent contractors, or gig workers are not eligible for UI. 

You may also qualify for UI if you are a healthcare worker under quarantine, are self-isolating, or caring for a quarantined family member. 

UI recipients receive benefits based on wage history, with a maximum benefit of $444 weekly. Benefits will become available once your claim is adjudicated, and will last for a maximum of 26 weeks, or until you find work. 

For self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers: 

 

While you do not traditionally qualify for unemployment, the CARES Act included Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that you may qualify for if the pandemic affected your work. Individuals who have insufficient work history or are seeking part-time, rather than full-time unemployment, may also qualify. PUA also applies to you if you must stay home to provide childcare due to school closures or are high-risk and advised to self-quarantine. 

PUA benefits will be at least half of the District’s weekly average of benefits, or $179 weekly. PUA can be applied retroactively for any disruptions to work starting on Jan. 27 of this year. Benefits will become available once claims are adjudicated, and can last for a maximum of 39 weeks, or until you find work. PUA is in effect until Dec. 26. 

Those not legally authorized to work in the U.S. are not eligible for either UI or PUA. 

For those already on unemployment:

 

If you are reaching the end of your 26 weeks on UI or your 39 weeks on PUA, there are extensions available, but you must apply again to be eligible

Extending UI:

The first available extension to UI is the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) extension, which lasts 13 weeks. The extension is available through Dec. 26, 2020, and participants receive the same amount they received under UI. Information about reapplying can be found here

After your PEUC benefits expire, you are encouraged to apply to the Extended Benefits (EB) program, which provides a second 13-week extension of benefits at the same level. You will once again have to reapply to receive this extension. This program has been temporarily extended for another seven weeks, meaning the total EB program will last for 20 weeks. 

Extending PUA: 

Both the EB section of UI and PUA have been extended for an additional seven weeks by the D.C. Council, meaning any workers coming to the end of 39 weeks on PUA can apply for an additional seven weeks of benefits. These benefits will be at the same level as the PUA benefits the workers were already receiving. 

For those with lost wages:

If you have not yet filed a claim but lost wages due to COVID-19, you may be able to recover some of that money. 

PUA can apply retroactively, and when you file your claim you can also ask for benefits making up lost wages since you have been unemployed. 

From March 29 to July 31, a now-expired Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) added $600 weekly to unemployment checks. If you were eligible for UI or PUA during that time and applied for unemployment before FPUC expired, you may still be eligible to receive the payment retroactively. 

For anyone eligible for unemployment, regardless of whether you have filed yet, the Lost Wages Assistance Program (LWA) can provide an extra $300 a week for the dates Aug. 1 to Sept. 5. In order to qualify for LWA, you must answer “yes” to a self-certification in the unemployment portal question asking if you are unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19. After you are certified, LWA for the weeks you are eligible will be paid out in a lump sum.

How to apply:

 

If you are eligible for any of the above programs, you can go to http://www.dcnetworks.org/ and navigate to the tab reading “claim unemployment benefits.” You can then choose the tab for the benefits you are eligible for; apply for benefits” for UI or PUA, PEUC” for PEUC, and EB” for EB after being on either UI or PUA. If you are not sure what you qualify for, you can start with the general claim benefits tab. You will then need to answer a series of questions and file your claim. 

If you are filing for PUA, you will first need to file for UI, and will be directed to PUA filing once you are rejected from UI. In order to receive PUA or LWA, you must answer “yes” to the self-certification question asking if you are unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19. 

In order to apply, you will need to have the following information: social security number or alien registration number; name, address, and phone number of most recent employer; documentation of previous income; DD214 if you are ex-military; and severance and pension information if applicable.

You can also apply via phone at 202-724-7000. The DOES is recommending anyone who can apply online do so, as there are long wait times to speak to someone on the phone. 

Once approved, you must file a weekly claim for benefits to continue to receive assistance, and report all earnings from work at https://does.dcnetworks.org/ClaimantServices. You also must continue to be available and able to work. 

You will have to reapply for any extension (PEUC, EB) you are eligible for. The DOES will not notify you when benefits are about to apply or that you are eligible for an extension, so you should keep track of when the program you are currently on will expire.