In many cases, college students might now be eligible for unemployment assistance under the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March.
In the past, college students have not generally been considered eligible for unemployment assistance, even if suddenly unemployed. Most state unemployment systems impose an earnings threshold, with those earning under a certain limit ineligible for benefits. Plus, full-time college students were often not classed as “able and available to work” under the old systems.
However, the CARES Act was designed to broaden those criteria to include basically anyone who has lost income as a result of the pandemic. This new eligibility can be critical for college students who lost summer jobs or work study positions due to campus closures. About 11 million college students work during their enrollment, and about three quarters of them work more than 20 hours per week. The income is critical not only for rent and food, but for expenses related to college attendance such as books and supplies.
In order to be eligible for unemployment benefits under the new rules, a college student must be able to prove they earned income in the past year, that they filed a tax return for 2019, and be unemployed due to a reason related to the Covid-19 pandemic. A business closure or campus closure, for example, would be considered acceptable reasons. Freelance and gig workers can also apply, provided they can provide proof of that prior income.
Even those who are claimed as dependents on a parent’s return can apply.
To apply for pandemic unemployment benefits, visit the state Department of Labor website. Answer the provided questions to determine whether you could be eligible for benefits. Then, submit all requested supporting documentation.
Your unemployment benefits might not seem like much now, but every penny helps as you face the cost of higher education.