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What you need to know about filing for unemployment

Hours cut? Laid off? Kids to take care of, and no leave to do so? There's help available from the state.

Hours cut? Laid off? Kids to take care of, and no leave to do so? There's help available from the state. Associated Press

Like pretty much every hardship in human history, coronavirus is hitting some of us harder than others: folks who are older, immunocompromised, or already sick with something else.

That’s why it’s so important to stay home as much as you can, and wash your hands as often as possible when you can't. 

All that safety has a downside. As more people elect to stay home, fewer are out spending their money. Last week, the Washington Post reported hundreds of layoffs nationwide, already, as retail, travel, and events petered to a halt. 

Meanwhile, folks in Minnesota are struggling, too. On Monday, Gov. Tim Walz ordered all bars, restaurants and “places of public amusement”—your theaters, museums, gyms, and whatnot—to close temporarily. The restrictions go into effect at 5 p.m. today and will last until March 27. Restaurants can still operate if they stick to takeout, but that's only minor relief to employees who'll be missing hours or full paychecks.

“Low key panicking,” one out-of-work Redditor wrote. “As things stand, I have enough rent for the next month, and nothing else.”

Don't panic, u/OutrageousCamp3. The state of Minnesota is here to help. Namely, with unemployment insurance.

Unemployment insurance temporarily pays workers about half a week’s pay every week. (That is, up to $740, and for up to 26 weeks.) It’s paid for by federal and state taxes on employers. You can either receive the money via a debit card, or set up a direct deposit. Workers usually don’t qualify until they’ve been out of work for a week, but a second order Walz signed on Monday does away with that delay and lets people get cleared for benefits immediately.

It usually takes about 15 minutes to apply online, which you can do here. If you want to apply via phone instead, call one of these depending on your situation:

  • In the metro area? Call 651-296-3644
  • Out in greater Minnesota? Call 1-877-898-9090
  • Hearing impaired and using a TTY? Call 1-866-814-1252

You also may be eligible if your hours got severely cut, or you’re at home caring for an ill or quarantined family member. The state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development wasn’t immediately available for comment, so we can’t say exactly how many folks have already applied, and how many are expected to.

However, state officials have put their estimates in the hundreds of thousands. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who declared a similar state of emergency that shut down the city’s eateries, coffee shops, and even libraries, told the Star Tribune there were nearly 30,000 bar and restaurant workers in the city alone.

A few more tips:

If you’re an emergency worker on the front lines of this epidemic, first of all, thank you. But secondly, you’re entitled to childcare for your kids aged 12 and under through your school district. You can learn more about whether you qualify here

If your child's daycare is closed and work isn’t giving you any time off to take care of your kids (healthy or otherwise), you might qualify for unemployment insurance, too.

If you’ve got no choice but to work, and you get sick on the job, you’ve got a right to workers’ comp. You also have a right to request accommodations—like telecommuting or sick leave—if you have a disability that affects your risk of contracting coronavirus. If you report any health or safety concerns at work, your employer isn’t allowed to punish you for it.

And if you’ve contracted the virus and the Minnesota Department of Health wants you to stay home, your employer can’t fire you for missing work for as long as 21 days. This also applies if you need to care for someone who has been infected.

One of the only scenarios the state can’t help you is if you’re not yet sick, but need to stay home because you were exposed to the virus at some point. Check out your options on the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s worker protections page.

A note for the post-coronavirus future:

It’s comforting to know that there are safety nets available in the event things go drastically wrong. There’s hope yet among health experts that this relatively quick, widespread response will lessen the impact of the epidemic. But elsewhere, the pandemic response is also throwing into stark relief the sheer number of rules being bent, changed, or thrown out the window altogether because of the virus.

At Walmart, paid sick leave that wasn’t originally on offer is suddenly available. In various states nationwide, people are no longer getting thrown in jail for minor offenses. Minneapolis, which usually shuts off the water to about 150 properties each month due to lack of payment, according to the Star Tribune, recently announced it would put the practice on hiatus so people could keep washing their hands.

Loan interest is being waived. Evictions are being suspended. Throttled internet is being, miraculously, un-throttled. Which begs the question—what was stopping them from doing it in the first place?

“All over America, the coronavirus is revealing, or at least reminding us, just how much of contemporary American life is bullshit, with power structures build on punishment and fear as opposed to our best interest,” Dan Kois recently wrote for Slate.

“Why should any sick worker fear losing their pay or their job at any time?” he asks. “Up until now, activists and customers have been meant to believe that the powers that be could never change these policies—it would be too expensive, or too unwieldly, or would simply upset the way things are done.”

But the cat’s getting let out of the bag. Once the public realizes a policy is “bullshit,” it’s much harder to get them to tolerate it.

In the meantime, wash your hands, stay safe, and check out what aid you're eligible to receive.