Carolina Curious: (Your) Unemployment Benefits Questions Answered
Nationwide, unemployment claims are being made in unprecedented numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In North Carolina, the Division of Employment Security typically processes 3,000 requests a week.
Now they’re averaging 20,000 per day.
For this edition of Carolina Curious, we answer listener questions about navigating the unemployment benefits system.
WFDD’s Eddie Garcia spoke with DES Public Information Officer Larry Parker about what changes are coming, and when those filing unemployment claims can expect to start seeing their payments.
When should people see their first unemployment insurance payment?
Typically, we're paying people after they file their second weekly certification. We've paid out nearly $28 million. And that’s with over 400,000 claims to process, so we're getting payments out. We're processing claims, but most certainly, at its earliest, it's going to be two weeks before you'd receive a payment.
What can people making claims do to keep on track or help expedite the process?
We're trying to really remind folks that every week you must certify what you did the week prior. Some folks are playing catch-up and filing weekly certifications for two and three times because they didn't know they had to file a weekly certification. So we're trying to remind folks — don't forget to do that. Because if you don't file a weekly certification, you don't get paid.
What if you were let go more than 14 days ago, but haven't yet made your claim?
We're essentially going to start your claim on the date that you tried to file it. So let's say you still had issues a week ago, or two weeks ago, and you haven't been able to complete it. We're going to backdate that to the date that you began to file your claim. In some cases, we may go back to when you're separated from work, if there was a technical issue when you were trying to file a claim. But for the most part, we're going to start that claim from the date you tried to begin filing.
Why are applicants still being asked to fulfill their weekly work search requirement on the website when Governor Roy Cooper's Executive Order No. 118 waived that?
They should answer in the affirmative that they are looking for work on those questions. Again, since the governor's executive order waives work search, that essentially allows them to say "yes," they did look for work. That'll make the process go a lot smoother. That's how we instructed on the website as well.
DES is waiting for further instructions from the federal government to implement new guidelines, which include additional weeks of benefits and a $600 increase. What exactly is the department waiting for?
Well, there are three additional programs that are going to affect unemployment. The first is what's called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. That's the extra $600 you've heard about. We did receive final guidance on Sunday evening, and we are working as quickly as we can to implement that so folks can get paid those additional $600 a week.
The second is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and this one's like a disaster unemployment assistance. So a lot of these folks who may be self-employed, or independent contractors, or might have other reasons why they can't file a regular claim might be eligible under the PUA. So they'll file a regular claim, then they're likely going to get denied. That's just one of the rules, you've got to check and make sure you're eligible for regular benefits first. Then they roll over into the PUA program. We hope to have more details on that one later on our website.
And then the third one is Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). And that'll be the additional 13 weeks of benefits, should folks run out. So when folks exhaust their 12 weeks, they can pick back up for an additional 13. So we'll have those definitive rules and everything that goes along with that on our website. Hopefully very soon.
What is the best time to reach DES?
We are taking on a lot of emails. We're taking on a lot of calls. We're taking steps to try to improve that process. We are utilizing staff from the NC Division of Workforce Solutions to not only answer emails, but to help folks out with password resets, etc., and to also file claims for folks over the phone that may be having difficulty online. So we're continually shuffling staff around that we have in the building to help certain areas out that might be overloaded more than others. So I would just tell folks, be patient, we're gonna take care of you. We're going to make sure that your claim is processed and filed, and we'll make sure that you get any monies that you're eligible for. It's a new normal for us. It's an all hands on deck situation. DES staff is working overtime, and working weekends, to help out folks in North Carolina.
*This interview was lightly edited for clarity.