Filing for unemployment? Experts share tips on how to get your benefits

A number of WTOP readers and listeners have reached out, saying they’re having trouble filling for unemployment from lost jobs during the coronavirus outbreak.

With more than 17 million people filing for unemployment nationwide, WTOP reached out to experts to see what D.C.-area residents should be doing.

Indivar Dutta-Guppa, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, said to look at the instructions from state and local agencies as they are trying to point you in the direction of the quickest route to help you and to help them.

“I would encourage anyone applying for benefits to pay close attention to what the state websites do say as far as what time to apply, what day to apply, what the wait times are, whether it’s better via website or to apply via phone, and get their applications in when they can,” Dutta-Guppa said.

For D.C., the site said to call weekdays after 5 p.m. and all day Saturday.

In Maryland, there are specific phone numbers on the site for which county you are in.

And while you can call and file over the phone in Virginia, they are highly encouraging that you file online as wait times are long.

“Apply either early in the morning or late in the evening if you want to get through on the phone,” said Stephen Wandner, senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance. “People will be able to get through eventually and everyone will be able to apply, but I would encourage applying online if you can.”

Dutta-Guppa said that you’re going to have to submit your documentation online anyway, so it might be a good idea to go online and file the entire claim on the website — that way your claim gets processed as soon as possible.

And he said that, while it is understood that you’d want your money as soon as possible, to remember that, “claims will be valid dating back to their separation from employment and all the way as far back as Jan. 27 for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” Dutta-Guppa said.

And when it comes to the additional pandemic-specific CARES Act $600-a-week benefit, Dutta-Guppa said that the delay also comes from the implementation of something completely new.

“There’s a complicated new law that states have to understand and administer, and they’re under pressure from the U.S. Department of Labor that nobody gets money that they don’t deserve under the new law,” he said. “I really do hope to see more and more unemployment insurance checks getting out the door this week in particular.”

Wandner said the U.S. Department of Labor gave detailed program letters to individual states last week on how this gets dispersed, so he expects the payments could be coming soon. “With this new guidance, I believe that payments will start rolling in,” Wandner said.

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Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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