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How to collect unemployment benefits – and what to expect

The coronavirus pandemic is leading to a wave of business closures and cutbacks that are sure to trigger unemployment claims by affected workers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put restrictions on service by restaurants and bars, and is closing down gyms, casinos and movie theaters. Other businesses have already felt the effects of a drop-off in the hospitality industry.

For those applying for unemployment benefits, here is what that entails, according to the state Department of Labor:

Q: How long will it take to collect unemployment insurance?

A: The Labor Department has waived the usual seven-day waiting period for people to collect benefits if they are out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic or quarantines.

Q: Where do I file?

A: The Labor Department recommends doing this online, at labor.ny.gov. You can also apply by phone, at 888-209-8124, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you file by phone, language translation services are available.

Q: How much can I collect?

A: On the Labor Department's website, you will find a benefit rate calculator that will estimate how much in benefits you are eligible for. The maximum benefit is $504 a week. For someone earning $40,000 a year in regular increments, the weekly benefit would be around $384, according to Labor Department estimates.

Keep in mind, this is just an estimate – it's not a guarantee of how much you will actually collect. You still have to file to determine if you are eligible and how much you will receive.

Q: How is my benefit amount calculated?

A: It's based on your high calendar quarter wages. The calendar quarter refers to the three-month period starting with January, April, July and October. Your weekly benefit rate is 1/26 of the high quarter wages paid to you in your base period.

Q: What if I am a part-time worker?

A: If you work less than four days in a week and earn $504 or less, you may receive partial benefits. Each day or part of a day of work causes your weekly benefit rate to drop by one-quarter, according to the Labor Department.

Here is an example. If your weekly benefit rate is $200 and you work three days and earn less than $504, you may receive $50 in benefits. If you work two days, you may receive $100 in benefits. If you work one day, you may receive $150 in benefits.

If you receive partial benefits, it extends the length of time you may collect benefits. If you earn over $504 in any week, no matter how many days you worked, you cannot receive benefits for that week.

Q: What information will I need?

A: The Labor Department asks for different forms of identification and employment information, including your Social Security number, driver's license information and documentation of your work history. You can still file if you don't have all the documents asked for, but it might delay your first payment.

Q: What if this my first time filing for benefits?

A: You will need to create a four-digit personal identification number that you should keep confidential.

Q: What if I lose a full-time job but still work part time? Can I still collect benefits?

A: If you work less than four days in a week and earn $504 or less, you may receive partial benefits.

Q: Are unemployment benefits taxed?

A: The Internal Revenue Service considers unemployment benefits to be taxable income, so they are subject to federal income tax. New York also considers them to be taxable income.

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