OP-ED: Sen. Mark Messmer on Filing For Unemployment During Covid-19 Crisis

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By State Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper)

Many Indiana businesses are struggling and have been forced to lay off employees, cut hours or reduce pay because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, more than 146,000 individuals filed for unemployment in Indiana. In the past, the highest amount to file in a single week was 28,000 during the 2009 recession. This is an unprecedented increase and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), which oversees the unemployment insurance system, is working hard to help all Hoosiers. 

There is a great deal of information on the topic that I, unfortunately, don't have room to explain in this column. However, I wanted to share some of the basic information in regard to filing and receiving unemployment. 

In order to be eligible for unemployment benefits in Indiana you must be unable to work because you have been ordered quarantined by a doctor, because you need to care for your children while their school or daycare is closed, or because your employer has shut down or laid you off due to COVID-19.

If you choose to stay home and not work during the pandemic, even though your employer is still operating, and you have not been told to stay home by a doctor, you will likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

If your hours have been reduced due to COVID-19, you may be eligible for benefits, but any benefits you receive will be reduced to reflect that you have earned partial income from your employer.

In addition, the CARES Act, which was recently passed by Congress, allows unemployment claimants to get an extra $600 per week in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The DWD expects this extra money to start appearing in Hoosier benefit payments around April 20, and they will receive the extra pay retroactive to March 29.

The CARES Act also makes self-employed individuals and gig workers temporarily eligible for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, states across the country have to change their application and approval processes to recognize these individuals in the unemployment insurance system. DWD has not yet determined when they will be able to start approving unemployment benefits for these individuals.

For more information, I encourage you to visit the in.gov/dwd. There you'll find several helpful resources, including an archived video from this week answering common questions about unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many, filing unemployment benefits is a situation they never imagined finding themselves in. The process can seem tedious and slow, but I assure you the DWD is working diligently to adapt to this unique situation and ensure that no Hoosier is left behind.

I hope you and your family have a safe and happy Easter weekend.

As always, feel free to contact my office directly with your questions and concerns by email at [email protected] or by phone at 800-382-9467.