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What workers need to know about unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 emergency

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Gov. Tim Walz: “This will be the single largest request of unemployment insurance in Minnesota’s history.”

Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order on Monday to tweak Minnesota’s unemployment insurance program in an effort to help people struggling with the closure of schools and businesses because of the novel coronavirus.

The order was the latest in a string of measures taken by the governor to ramp up the state’s response to COVID-19 and push people to avoid crowds and take other health precautions. On Friday, Walz declared a peacetime emergency and warned against large gatherings. By Monday he had closed schools and ordered closures of restaurants, gyms, theaters, museums and more.


Walz predicted the effect on workers could be profound. “This will be the single largest request of unemployment insurance in Minnesota’s history,” he told reporters.

Unemployment benefits are typically about 50 percent of the average weekly wage of an applicant — up to a maximum of $740. That money “will not make you whole,” Walz said. “But our intention is to try and make sure that it does not destroy your family or the well being that you have.”

Here’s what’s in the governor’s order, and what advice state leaders gave for workers facing a loss of employment or hours.

Commissioner Steve Grove
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein
Commissioner Steve Grove
A waiting period is waived

The state’s unemployment insurance program, which is administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development, had a week-long waiting period for people to access benefits. Walz’s executive order gets rid of that lag, allowing workers “to become eligible for unemployment benefits as quickly as possible,” the order says.

You may not have to look for employment to get benefits

Normally, to receive unemployment wages, you have to actively look for employment each week. Given concerns about social distancing and self-quarantine due to COVID-19, that requirement doesn’t include jobs that put health and safety at risk. In effect, people who are sick or isolated won’t be forced to apply for jobs that would compromise public health if they worked.

If you are sick, quarantined, or home because of an outbreak at your work, you qualify for unemployment

Unemployment insurance is meant for people who lose work through no fault of their own. Walz’s order specifically says that includes a leave of absence when an employee has been ordered or recommended to stay home or in isolation by health officials or their employer due to COVID-19 concerns. Such a leave may occur “whether or not the applicant has actually contracted a communicable disease.”

If you stay home due to lack of child care, you qualify for unemployment

The executive order says if you can’t go to work because school or child care has been canceled, you can get unemployment insurance. There are some limitations. An applicant must make a reasonable effort to obtain other child care, as well as request time off “or other accommodation” from their employer. If that doesn’t help, then unemployment is an option.


Businesses get a break

Normally, when a business lays people off, that factors into their future tax bill for the unemployment program. Walz’s order says that benefits paid as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic won’t count against businesses. “We don’t want those businesses to be adversely affected by this crisis,” DEED commissioner Steve Grove told reporters.

Limitation waived for unemployed business owners

The executive order gets rid of a five-week limit on benefits for business owners who become unemployed because of COVID-19.

If you apply for unemployment, do it online

Grove told reporters that DEED has been working to extend hours to handle increased call volumes and applications for unemployment. But he urged people signing up for unemployment to do so through the agency’s website: uimn.org. State call centers are “simply not set up to handle the call volume that we expect to come in based on this executive order,” Grove said. And the lines must be reserved for people who don’t have internet access or who don’t speak English or languages that have translations available on state websites.

DEED fielded more than 4,000 calls on Monday about unemployment insurance, nearly twice its normal number. The insurance website had 90,000 visits — twice the standard Monday number, agency officials said.

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Terry McDanel on 03/17/2020 - 12:57 pm.

    If I am working in a restaurant at the airport, and my company tells me not to come into work for two weeks, does that mean I am eligible for unemployment?

    It will probably be longer than two weeks. How long do I have to wait to apply?

    • Submitted by Walker Orenstein on 03/17/2020 - 02:02 pm.

      Hi Terry –

      Walker here, reporter for MinnPost. You should qualify for unemployment. Apply now at UIMN.org. Your situation could fit under normal parameters for unemployment, as well as the new rules specific to COVID-19.

  2. Submitted by Paulette Marcyes on 03/17/2020 - 07:35 pm.

    What about self employed people who say have a salon? Child care won’t be covered and people won’t come in? Do
    These people qualify?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/18/2020 - 03:48 pm.

      If you aren’t an employee, you don’t qualify for unemployment benefits. Self-employed people are out of luck.

      • Submitted by Gayle Wilson on 03/19/2020 - 01:53 am.

        Hi Iam 55 years old and my unemployment just ran out, as well, I was planning on applying for a shuttle service job noticing it was posted that they need driver’s, NOW they have shut down this business due this horrible, deadly virus. I also am a diabetic with high blood pressure. Health not great. Will they allow extensions for unemployment? I am in dire need here. I have rent n bills to pay.

        • Submitted by Patricia Gardner on 03/23/2020 - 12:41 pm.

          Gayle,
          I am in the same boat. My benefits have ran out too and MN will not be doing extension’s. I have called and sent emails and received the same answer, no extensions.
          That’s crazy

          • Submitted by Daniel Piispanen on 03/26/2020 - 01:51 pm.

            From what our Governor said yesterday (3/25) during his news conference. They will be putting out a 13 week extension for unemployment benefits. 👌🏻

  3. Submitted by JASON GLORVICK on 03/18/2020 - 04:53 pm.

    Does this new unemployment policy cover church employees as well? They are normally unable to collect unemployment.

  4. Submitted by cindy lemon on 03/19/2020 - 11:16 am.

    Unemployment is telling my son-in-law he won’t get anything because his benefits ran out. He was laid off till Jan8th and then went back to work. Now he got laid off again because of the co-vid. Was told by his work to re-apply so He applied and got denied, then called UI and they told him no!!!! What now and how do we resolve this? If someone could help that would be amazing!! Thank you in advance

    • Submitted by Patricia Gardner on 03/23/2020 - 12:44 pm.

      Cindy,

      That is correct. I have called in as well as email and told the same thing. They are not giving extensions to people whose benefits have run out and you can’t get unemployment again unless you have built back up your account which takes some months of working.

    • Submitted by Henry anderson on 03/25/2020 - 11:02 pm.

      You should contact them again by the end of this week since the relief bill has been implemented. It includes an extension of benefits up to 14 weeks I believe but I’m not sure how that plays out with people who were collecting before the virus outbreak. Surprised MNpost didn’t mention anything about that because the unemployment benefit extension has been a part of the previous drafts of the relief bill so it was pretty much a expectation

  5. Submitted by Tim Allen on 03/19/2020 - 02:44 pm.

    Yeah , I get to take my son to cancer treatments ( 100 miles round trip ) and take & pick up my grandson from pre-school with no income as I was turned down for unemployment. Apparently I dont work enough hours to do so . Thanks for nothing state of Minnesota

  6. Submitted by Emily Johnston on 03/22/2020 - 11:25 am.

    What if I am a full time teacher that also works a very necessary second job at a restaurant, and that restaurant is closed due to COVID-19? Am I eligible for unemployment benefits during this time? My teacher salary is far below the income required to sustain mortgage, utilities, etc.

    • Submitted by daryl kaiser on 03/29/2020 - 12:33 am.

      Call your mortgage company they will defer payments during this time I did this and they said I don’t have to make my house pant. Until further notice, also credit cards loans etc.

  7. Submitted by Darryl Welde on 03/25/2020 - 08:56 am.

    We have a daughter that is a nurse in a clinic because she is in danger of acquiring the COVID 19 virus including putting her family at risk could she quit work and be eligible for unemployment benefits?

  8. Submitted by Jenny napier on 03/26/2020 - 12:36 pm.

    I applied for unemployment on a different job got denied said I had to make $1500 before I could get it my job was shut down (bartender) unemployment says i can’t get unemployment why
    Can someone tell me why

    • Submitted by Daniel Piispanen on 03/26/2020 - 01:39 pm.

      In order to qualify for this benefit program, you must have worked in Minnesota during the past 12 to 15 months, and have earned at least a minimum amount of wages. Typically need at least 2 quarters of working income which is 6 months to qualify.

  9. Submitted by Lori Nelson on 03/28/2020 - 10:03 am.

    Both of my jobs were temporarily shut down due to covid-19. From what I understand, benefits should start immediately. I did not get paid for my first week, but I applied in the middle of the week. Should I have been paid for that first week? It seems unclear.

  10. Submitted by Jane Butler on 03/31/2020 - 07:44 am.

    Currently a seasonal employee. Have collected unemployment benefits off & on over the last year when I’m not working. Benefits runs out next week. Scheduled to start seasonal work in April. Company closed b/c of Covid-19. How do I apply for the Unemployment benefit extension? It is not available on the MN Unemployment website??

  11. Submitted by cheryl oachs on 04/01/2020 - 08:08 am.

    If I am at a Higher Risk because of COPD and the Docter gave me a note stating that I am at risk but yet when I tried to put in a Efmla the doctor would not put a return date for my return to work-This is what she stated: I can direct you to the CDC guidelines for businesses but you need to discuss this with your employer. The website is listed below. If you can stay home you should, but I cannot write a note saying you have to stay home. You already have a note confirming you are at a higher risk, but ultimately, it is up to your employer to determine time off. You need to protect yourself by doing those interventions mentioned earlier. So I i cant get paid efmla can i get unemployment?

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