Unemployment Benefits in Response to COVID-19 Coronavirus

Updated 5/17/2021 at 3 p.m.

News: The job search requirement is back. Most Vermonters need to look for work each week to keep unemployment benefits. Learn more about work search, below.

Video: Unemployment and work search. Watch the video on Facebook. Vermont Legal Aid Staff Attorney Kelli Kazmarski talked about the return of the work-search requirement for unemployment benefit claimants. Kelli discussed who must now perform a work search and how to report it to the Vermont Department of Labor. She also answer questions about these recent changes and other aspect of the unemployment benefits programs in Vermont.

Overpayments: The Department of Labor says I have been overpaid unemployment benefits and I need to pay them back. What should I do?

Updates: The information on this page now includes the new benefits from the federal American Rescue Plan Act signed on March 11, 2021. This includes:

  • extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits through September 4, 2021 – learn more below
  • extended regular unemployment benefits through September 4, 2021 – learn more below
  • news that the federal government will not tax the first $10,200 of your 2020 unemployment benefits – learn more below

If you lost your job or had your hours cut due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, you probably can get some help. You can apply for benefits even if your employer says not to. Employers do not make decisions about unemployment benefits — the state does.

Am I eligible for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 crisis?

You should apply if you:

  • were laid off or let go
  • were furloughed
  • had your hours cut
  • were hired but couldn’t start due to COVID-19
  • had to leave work to care for a child whose school or childcare center closed due to COVID-19
  • had to leave work to care for a household member diagnosed with COVID-19
  • had to quarantine under doctor’s orders
  • were diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms and need diagnosis
  • cannot work due to stay-at-home orders
  • asked your employer to work remotely for health reasons and your employer said "no"
  • left work because your employer was not following safety guidelines and was exposing you to an unreasonable risk of getting COVID-19.

If you can't work because you are in quarantine, sick, caring for a family member who is sick, or caring for a child, you should check whether you are eligible for Vermont earned sick time and federal COVID-19 paid leave. Do this before applying for unemployment. You are not eligible for unemployment benefits during any week in which you get sick pay. See our page about the new federal paid leave law.

Remember, it doesn’t matter if your employer says “you’re not laid off” or “you’re not furloughed.” The state decides whether the reason you left work qualifies you for unemployment, not your employer.

Am I eligible even if I’m a “gig worker,” self-employed, freelancer or an independent contractor?

Yes! If you are self-employed, an independent contractor or freelancer, you could be eligible if you meet the other criteria listed above.

Visit this Department of Labor web page to learn how to apply. You will need to give proof of your work history within 21 days of your application.

Note: Has your small business applied for a "Paycheck Protection" SBA loan or economic injury disaster loan? Does this funding allow you to maintain regular hours? If yes, then you probably can't get unemployment under any of the new programs.

What if I didn’t meet the minimum work history requirements this year?

Yes! Even if you do not have significant work history you may be able to get unemployment benefits during this time.

Am I eligible if I am not a citizen of the United States?

Generally, if you are not a United States citizen, you are eligible for unemployment benefits if you have a valid authorization to work in the United States right now and you had one when you were working. The National Employment Law Project has an overview of what we know, and don’t know, about your eligibility for unemployment benefits in this time.

Undocumented immigrants cannot get unemployment benefits.

Do you live in Vermont? Do you have questions about your immigration status or authorization to work in the United States? Contact AALV or the South Royalton Legal Clinic.

How much money can I expect to receive every week?

Typically, the state determines your weekly benefit amount using this formula. The maximum benefit is $513/week.

If you are now eligible for unemployment because of COVID-19 (for example, because you don’t have much work history or you are an independent contractor), you will receive between $191/week (half of the state average unemployment benefit in the last quarter) and $513/week in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

If you file a weekly claim you will also get extra “pandemic unemployment compensation” money every week. This program paid $600 per week until July 31, 2020. It will pay $300 per week between December 27, 2020, and September 4, 2021. You can get it even if you are just receiving partial unemployment.

If you earned at least $5,000 from self-employment last tax year and are getting regular unemployment benefits (not Pandemic Unemployment Assistance), you can also get an extra $100 each week between December 27, 2020, and September 4, 2021.

How long can I get unemployment insurance benefits during the crisis?

If you are eligible for state unemployment benefits, you can get those benefits for up to 26 weeks in a 12-month period. During the crisis, you can keep getting benefits — even if you have used up your 26 weeks — through September 4, 2021. You can get benefits for a maximum of 79 weeks.

If you are eligible through a federal coronavirus-related program (for example, if you are self-employed or an independent contractor), you can get unemployment benefits for up to 79 weeks or September 4, 2021, whichever comes first.

What information do I need to apply?

Look at the list at the bottom of this page on the Vermont Department of Labor website. Be ready with as much information as you can.

If you would not normally be eligible for regular unemployment and are applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits, you will need to give the Department of Labor extra information to show you are eligible. Within 21 days of your application, you should provide:

  • proof of the job you lost, or
  • proof of self-employment, or
  • proof of a job you planned to start but could not due to COVID-19.

You may also need to give proof of your identity.

An adjudicator (someone who reviews your application) from the Department of Labor may call or email you if:

  • information is missing, or
  • you and your employer disagree about facts related to your eligibility.

The adjudicator may contact you while your application is pending or after you have already started getting benefits. Answer calls even if you do not recognize the number. Do your best to help the adjudicator find the information they need. This is a chance to explain why you think you are eligible for benefits and make sure that they have all the facts. If the adjudicator does not have enough information, they may decide that you cannot get benefits. Or they may decide you have to repay benefits that you have received.

How do I apply?

At this time, initial claims for unemployment compensation must be done by phone. Call 1-877-214-3330. Call Monday - Saturday between 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. 

Before you contact the Department of Labor to make a claim, gather information from their list of required information. The Department of Labor is handling a lot of phone calls. However, the department has hired more people to answer phones so wait times should be down to 30 seconds or less.

If you are an independent contractor, self-employed or a “gig” worker, visit this Department of Labor web page to learn how to apply.

How long do I have to wait?

At this time, the Department of Labor doesn't have a waiting period for unemployment benefits.

In normal times, it usually takes about two weeks to get your first payment. Because of the pandemic, you may have to wait longer if there is an issue with your claim. It’s not possible to know exactly when you will get your first payment.

Do I have to do anything after I become eligible — like search for a job?

Keep filing your claim every week with the Department of Labor every week that you are not able to work or your hours were cut. Each week, you will have to certify that your situation has not changed.

UPDATE: Beginning the week of May 9, 2021, most Vermonters will have to do a work search and submit a report of this search each week in order to receive unemployment benefits. This includes regular unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). (This rule had been suspended since early 2020.) You need to provide details of at least three job-search contacts each week.

You will need to do your first work search during the week of May 9 - 15, and report on it starting May 16, 2021. Even if you meet criteria for an exemption to the work search, you may be asked for additional documents in order to keep your benefits.

Unless you have a good reason not to, work searches have to be reported online. The Department of Labor is working on a process for people who do not have computers or internet to submit work search reports.

Learn more about the work search requirement on the Vermont Department of Labor website.

Do I have to pay federal taxes on my unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits are usually taxable income. However, because of the pandemic, the federal government will not tax the first $10,200 of 2020 unemployment benefits. See the IRS website for more information, a worksheet and forms.

You can ask the Department of Labor to withhold federal and state taxes from your weekly benefit. You will get a tax form (1099G) in the mail by the end of January that lists your unemployment income.

What about Vermont taxes? 

Unemployment benefits are usually taxable income. For 2020 benefits, the state is also following the special federal tax rule above. Learn more on the Vermont Department of Taxes website.

How will this affect my other benefits, housing and health care?

Do you get public assistance such as 3SquaresVT (food stamps), fuel assistance, General Assistance, Reach-Up or SSI? If so, you have to report the money you get from unemployment to each of those programs. Generally, you should report the money within 10 days of when you start to get unemployment. Your other benefits may be reduced or stopped while you are getting unemployment, depending on how much you get in unemployment benefits. You should also report to each of these programs when you are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. That way you can get your 3SquaresVT, fuel assistance, General Assistance, Reach-Up and SSI back.

If you have subsidized housing, you should report your unemployment benefits to:

  • your landlord (if you live in a subsidized building), or
  • your housing authority (if you get rental assistance such as a Section 8 voucher).

If you live in Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) multi-family housing, HUD counts unemployment benefits as income. But HUD will not count your federal stimulus checks. And we believe HUD won't count the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments ($600 or $300/week extra benefits) or the Mixed-Earner Unemployment Compensation ($100/week benefit). Your share of the rent may go up while you get unemployment benefits. You should also report when your unemployment benefits stop, so that your rent share goes down again.

Medicaid also counts this unemployment money, except for “pandemic unemployment compensation.” You should report your unemployment money to Vermont Medicaid. We think most people should be able to get the extra unemployment benefits and keep their Medicaid. If you get a letter that says your Medicaid is changing or ending, contact the Office of the Health Care Advocate (HCA). Call 1-800-917-7787 to speak with a health care advocate, or fill out their Help Request Form. The HCA is a free service for Vermonters.

What happens if I’m denied?

You have 30 days from the date on the written notice to appeal. But some denials may get resolved without an appeal. Before appealing, you can try contacting the Department of Labor to see if you are one of the people who will likely have their claim resolved with more information.

We can help you decide whether or not you need to appeal your unemployment denial. Fill out our form and we will call you back. Your information will go to Legal Services Vermont, which screens requests for help for both Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont. You can also call us at 1-800-889-2047.

If you do have to appeal, make sure you send your appeal notice in writing to the Department of Labor within 30 days of the date on your denial or "determination letter." Tell them you want to appeal. You may send your appeal by US Mail, email, fax or drop it off. However you send it, it has to be within 30 days of the date of the denial letter. See the Department of Labor’s website for details on what to include in your appeal letter. Keep a copy of your letter.

If you’d rather use an appeal form, you can use the UI Claimant Appeal form. Fill it out and save a copy for yourself.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will review your claim and the denial and you will have a phone hearing. See the back of your Notice of Hearing or the Department of Labor’s website for details on the appeals process.

The Department of Labor says I have been overpaid unemployment benefits and I need to pay them back. What should I do?

Read the notice from the Department of Labor (DOL). If you feel you were entitled to the benefits you received and disagree that you were overpaid, you have 30 days from the date of the decision to appeal. The DOL cannot make you pay back benefits if you were entitled to receive them in the first place.  The DOL also cannot make you pay back benefits if you did not misreport or fail to report anything to them.

Look at the written notice to find instructions for an appeal and contact information. However you send in the appeal, it has to be within 30 days of the date of the denial letter. See the Department of Labor’s website for details on what to include in an appeal letter. Keep a copy of your letter. If you’d rather use an appeal form, you can use the UI Claimant Appeal form. Fill it out and save a copy for yourself.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will review your case and you will have a phone hearing. See the back of your Notice of Hearing or the Department of Labor’s website for details on the appeals process.

If you need help, fill out our form. Your information will go to Legal Services Vermont, which screens requests for help for both Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Vermont. You can also call us at 1-800-889-2047.

Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) Program

The Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) program was a new program set up in August 2020 which provides federal supplemental unemployment benefits to certain Vermonters who:

  1. were eligible for either a regular unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) of at least $100 during the first three weeks of August 2020, and
  2. could have or already had certified that the reason for their unemployment during those weeks of August was related to COVID-19.

This was an additional benefit in the amount of $300 per week for eligible claimants who met the above criteria for the weeks ending August 1, August 8 and August 15.

Unemployment claims for individuals — Contact information

  • Unemployment call center web page
  • Establish an Initial Claim: 1-877-214-3330 (Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.)
  • Claimant Assistance: 1-877-214-3330 (Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.)
  • Supplemental Assistance Line: 1-888-807-7072 (Monday - Friday 8:15 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.)
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Hotline: 1-877-660-7782 (Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.)

Scam alert: There have been reports that scammers are creating fake websites that pretend to be unemployment benefit websites. To lure people to these fake websites, they send spam text messages and emails. The fake websites are designed to trick people into thinking they are applying for unemployment benefits and to disclose personal information. Unless from a known and verified source, never click on links in text messages or emails claiming to be about unemployment insurance benefits. Visit the official Vermont Department of Labor website at https://labor.vermont.gov or call them with questions.

Food Benefits: Did you know? Many Vermonters are eligible to get 3SquaresVT benefits to help put food on their tables. The program is an under-used resource! You may be eligible even if you are getting unemployment — or getting the extra Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which isn't counted as part of your income when applying for 3SquaresVT. Learn more on the Vermont Food Help website.

Past translations about this topicAf Soomaali / Somali, العربية / Arabic, မြန်မာစာ / Burmese, Ikirundi / Kirundi, Kiswahili / Swahili, नेपाली / Nepali, Français / French. Translations supported by the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Updated: Jun 14, 2021