NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM)- Many North Texans are temporarily out of work due to the Coronavirus pandemic and no fault of their own and are wondering what to do next. Here are some frequently asked questions about unemployment benefits including eligibility rules, benefit amounts, how to apply, and more.

What are unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits are part of an employer-paid program that provides temporary, partial income replacement to qualified individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own.

Unemployment benefits are available if you meet eligibility requirements set by the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act (TUCA). If you collect benefits, you are legally responsible for following the rules set by state law.

Who is now eligible for unemployment?

Along with the full-time workers who have lost their job; part-time employees, self-employed workers, and gig workers are now eligible too.

This includes workers such as Uber drivers who may be seeing fewer rides.

The Texas Workforce Commission says if you cannot work because of the coronavirus, you are more than likely to receive benefits.

Furlough versus layoff?

A furlough means “you are still an employee —there’s just no work,” labor and employment attorney David Barron said to CBS News. It’s different than layoffs, which usually indicates a company is permanently firing workers and likely eliminating their positions.

When workers are furloughed, they generally lose their incomes during the period they’re not working. After the furlough ends and workers resume their jobs, they’ll also typically start back at the same income and job position as before they were furloughed.

By comparison, a laid-off worker may receive some severance pay from their former employer, but otherwise, the company will cease paying them.

What if you were furloughed?

These workers are forced to take a temporary leave of absence with no pay but, in many cases, still receive benefits, such as health insurance.

Under the stimulus bill, anyone who is furloughed due to the coronavirus is qualified for unemployment benefits. Furloughed workers will be eligible for the additional $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits. Once a furloughed worker returns to work, those benefits would end.

Who does not qualify?

Anyone that can work from home or that is currently receiving paid leave.

How much money will eligible workers get?

Unemployment benefits range based on a number of factors but in Texas the average unemployment benefit is $246 per week.

The federal stimulus bill is now adding an extra $600 to those benefits – making the new average benefit in Texas roughly $846 a week.

How long can you be covered?

In Texas, you can receive benefits up to 26 weeks but the federal government has now expanded that adding another 13 weeks for a maximum total of 39 weeks.

What if I’m a freelancer or gig worker? 

The stimulus package also covers unemployed workers who were self-employed, “gig” workers and freelancers — for example, that could include independent consultants, Lyft drivers, UberEats delivery workers, freelance journalists or personal assistants on TaskRabbit. Formerly, such workers couldn’t claim unemployment. 

When to apply?

You should apply for benefits as soon as you become unemployed.  When you apply for unemployment benefits, the effective date of your initial claim is the Sunday of the week in which you apply. We cannot pay benefits for weeks before your claim effective date.

For more information, see TWC‘s Applying for Unemployment Benefits

How do you apply?

The easiest way is to apply is online at Texas Workforce Commission. Filling out an application online usually takes less than seven minutes.

You can also call 1-800-939-6631 but, because of the demand for benefits, getting through by phone has been difficult for many.

Cisco Gamez with the Texas Workforce Commission said, “We know it is frustrating for people who are trying to call and trying to get through online and can’t. We understand. We are asking people to be patient with us. We want to help them.”

Gamez said if you are having a tough time getting through, try applying online, if possible, between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. when the systems experience their lowest volume.

The TWC says it is receiving nearly a million and a half calls a day.

Two-hundred workers from other departments have been added to help process claims.

The TWC has also hired another 100 call takers.

Additional Resources:

Coronavirus: Your Money And More Special Report And Executive Director Of TWC Update

TWC Director: Freelance, Independent Workers Should Re-Apply For Benefits

Resource Guide And Tips For Job Hunters

These Places Are Hiring

Mortgage Help During Coronavirus Pandemic

What To Do If Laid Off & Can’t Pay Bills

Pausing Your Student Loans

Stimulus Check & Relief Packages FAQ

IRS Launches Tool To Track Stimulus Payments

What You Need To Know And Do About The Cares Act

Texas Workforce Commission’s Website

Texas Workforce Commission’s Unemployment Benefits Services Tutorial

Texas Workforce Commission’s Frequently Asked Questions

CareerOneStop’s Unemployment Benefits Guide

Nolo’s Collecting Unemployment Benefits In Texas Guide