How Furloughed Workers Can Benefit From the Coronavirus Stimulus Package

Unemployment has risen to record highs due to the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus.

According to the Labor Department, jobless claims for the week ended March 21 hit 3.3 million on a seasonably adjusted basis — a gain of more than 3 million from the previous week and much greater than the previous record of 695,000 claims in October 1982.

However, a new $2 trillion economic stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump today promises unemployment pay and benefits for millions of Americans — including furloughed workers, freelancers, the self-employed and gig workers, such as Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts.

Congressional leaders agreed to substantially expand insurance and benefits for the jobless: The measure ensures that unemployed workers will receive weekly pay of $600 for four months on top of state benefits, as well as up to 13 weeks of extended benefits. At the end of February, the Labor Department reported that unemployment pay averaged about $372 a week, and most laid-off workers get a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits across most states.

“The unprecedented expansion of unemployment insurance included in the federal government’s proposed stimulus package will go a long way in helping desperate unemployed workers meet their basic needs, especially here in New York where unemployment benefits lag behind other states,” said Julia Rosner, senior staff attorney at the nonprofit Legal Services NYC. “Today’s package will provide much needed relief to thousands of misclassified workers and independent contractors across the state.”

The legislation would also help those who have had their hours reduced by providing incentives to states to adopt work-sharing programs. This would allow employers to partially compensate their workers without laying them off, while allowing those workers to take home some unemployment benefits. (About 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, have work-sharing laws already in place.)

“We’re in such an unprecedented time of change,” said Tana Greene, CEO of employment solutions firm MyWorkChoice. “If you want to do anything for the people right now, you need to embrace flexibility. It’s going to take some time before we get back to where we were [in terms of employment], but I think we’re going to rebound even stronger. Getting people paid right now is the most critical thing, and then let’s get back to work as soon as we can.”

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