By Geoff Williams, Contributor
EVERYONE KNOWS THAT IF you lose your full-time job, you can get unemployment benefits. But if you lose a part-time job or if your full-time position becomes part time, did you know that you can get partial unemployment benefits?
If you didn’t know, congratulations. You’ve just cleared your first hurdle. You can’t receive partial unemployment benefits if you’re unaware that they exist.
If partial unemployment benefits isn’t part of your knowledge base, keep reading.
What Is Partial Unemployment?
Partial unemployment is exactly what it sounds like – an unemployment check that replaces part-time income. The only difference is that it won’t be as much money as an unemployment check that replaces a full-time job.
Arguably, partial unemployment benefits are needed. Plenty of Americans work part-time jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.5% of American workers over age 16 held more than one job in 2020 (in 2019, before the pandemic hit, 5.1% of workers were holding down more than one job). This may not sound like many workers, but 4.5% comes out to more than 6 million people.
A partial unemployment direct deposit generally comes into play in two scenarios. In the first scenario, you’re working a part-time job to make ends meet, and you lose that position. So while you’re looking for a new part-time gig, you could apply for partial unemployment insurance.
In the second scenario, which has been common during the pandemic, you had a full-time position but your hours were cut back, and you’re now receiving a smaller check. In that case, you may be able to apply for partial unemployment insurance.
Who Is Eligible for Partial Unemployment?
It can vary from state to state, but in general, the main requirement is that you’ve either earned enough or worked enough time to collect unemployment. In most states, you usually have to have worked a full year before being eligible for unemployment.
Generally, you are eligible for unemployment benefits, partial or full, when you are fired, furloughed, laid off, terminated or whatever your word choice is for losing a job. If you quit your part-time job or suggest to your employer that you would like to work fewer hours, generally you will not be eligible for partial unemployment benefits.
Still, if your employment situation has changed, and you think you aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, it can’t hurt to contact your state’s unemployment office. The pandemic has changed a lot of rules, and there’s no harm in asking.
How Much Will You Receive in Benefits?
That can get complicated, and whatever you get, it probably won’t be much.
As for what your check will look like, “It’s really impossible to say,” says Andrew Rozo, an attorney in New York City who covers a variety of legal cases, such as business law, health care law and landlord-tenant law. Last year, he says, he did a lot of unemployment benefits work on a New York State Bar Association COVID-19 pro bono project.
“Every state is different, and every salary is different. … Generally, a person will get a benefits amount under minimum wage, depending on the state,” Rozo says. “Expect to get less than half of what you made. But it really depends on how much you made and your state’s rules.”
Of course, if you’re receiving enhanced unemployment benefits on top of your partial insurance direct deposit, that will make your meager unemployment revenue a little less anemic.
How to Apply
Ideally, you should apply within the week you are first laid off. You want to do it immediately because the faster you get into your state’s unemployment insurance system, the sooner you can get paid. It can take a few weeks to get that first unemployment direct deposit.
You will probably apply online or by phone. Due to the pandemic, applying in person may not be an option, but again, every state is handling this differently.
You’ll want to contact your state’s unemployment insurance office. The Department of Labor has a helpful website with a list of all of the state offices.
Have your documentation handy when you apply, including your Social Security number and driver’s license number. You will also probably need your spouse’s and dependents’ Social Security numbers and dates of birth. If you want a direct deposit rather than a check in the mail, you’ll need to supply your bank account and routing numbers.
If you still are employed and working fewer hours than you were, as opposed to no longer having a part-time job, you may also need to report how much you’re still earning.
“The most important thing a person receiving partial unemployment benefits should do is make sure they are correctly reporting the earned wages they are receiving from any employment to their state labor office. Any error, whether or not intentional, could cause the loss of benefits, repayment and possible penalties,” says Jeremy Schatz, founder of Virtus Law Group in Birmingham, Alabama, which focuses on federal employment, labor and civil rights laws.
Still, Schatz has some good news for those who are leery of applying for partial unemployment benefits. “Partial unemployment benefits are generally no more difficult to get than full benefits,” he says.
Filling Out Your Unemployment Insurance Form
An important thing to remember when you are applying for unemployment benefits is that while you may want to apply quickly, you shouldn’t rush through the process.
“Read carefully like you’re building a piece of furniture,” Rozo advises. He also advises contacting your state’s department of labor, via phone, email or even Twitter, if you have questions.
“The mistakes will always be misunderstanding instructions or what some questions are asking,” Rozo says.
He points out that the answers to most of your questions are probably available online, so check the frequently asked questions page on your state’s department of labor or unemployment insurance office.
“The most important thing, however, is to answer honestly. The last thing you want is to owe your state all the benefits you received and then penalties on top of that,” Rozo says. “Read carefully, ask questions, only trust authoritative sources and be honest. Those steps should lead to success.”