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Who is eligible for unemployment benefits during coronavirus crisis?

New laws have broadened the scope of who is eligible for unemployment benefits and created some new programs during the coronavirus pandemic.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Due to the economic damage caused by coronavirus, hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs and applying for unemployment benefits at a record-breaking pace.

New laws have broadened the scope of who is eligible for those benefits.

Specifically, changes in federal law have created some new programs. But, the best way to apply is still online through your state's unemployment office. 

Regardless, there's now a lot of confusion about who may be eligible for benefits and who shouldn't bother.

Here's what we've found so far.

Eligible Before

The following types of people have always been eligible for benefits, even before the new laws:

  • Laid off
  • Quit for a government-approved cause
  • Otherwise terminated through no fault of own
  • Put on temporary layoff
  • Hours are significantly cut (may be able to get partial benefits)

Eligible Now

The following types of people are newly eligible for benefits:

  • Independent contractors who have lost work (e.g. Uber drivers)
  • Self-employed people who have lost business
  • Severely sick with coronavirus
  • Caring for family members sick with coronavirus
  • Kids' school closed and don't have childcare, and so cannot work
  • Told by doctor to quarantine, or have symptoms and are awaiting test results or treatment
  • Quit job because employer isn't providing adequate protections against coronavirus

Not Eligible

The following types of people are not eligible for any unemployment benefits:

  • Still getting paid (e.g. teleworking, on paid time off, or simply no change in job status)
  • Quit job without government-approved reason
  • Fired for cause
  • Didn't have a job to begin with


Contradicting evidence exists as to whether the following types of people are eligible. Federal law seems to indicate they are, but in implementing new laws, state agencies remain unsure or have yet to confirm eligibility.

  • Had a job lined up but the offer was suddenly retracted because of coronavirus-related business loss
  • Mildly sick with coronavirus but can still somehow work
  • Suddenly became the major breadwinner after the previous breadwinner died of coronavirus

Other requirements

Applicants are usually required to meet certain requirements to achieve basic eligibility. Some of those requirements have been modified.

  • Must apply via the state they work in, with some exceptions for military and federal employees. This is still required.
  • Must be willing and able to work. This is still required, unless the inability is caused by coronavirus, as listed above.
  • Must continue actively looking for work while receiving benefits. This is no longer required in Washington this year. Idaho has not made any apparent changes to this requirement so far.
  • Must wait one week after becoming unemployed to apply. This is no longer required in either state.
  • Must have worked a certain number of hours in the last year. This is unclear. New federal laws appear to have loosened these requirements, but state agencies have not yet provided clear guidance on to what extent that will be true in practice.

RELATED: 16.8M Americans thrown out of work as economic toll of virus rises

RELATED: What to know about unemployment, stimulus checks in Washington and Idaho

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