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What does the recently passed federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act do to help unemployment claims? It expands unemployment compensation to those who are not otherwise covered and modestly expands the amount one would get under Illinois unemployment compensation.

Eligibility for additional benefits

You must have been part time or fully employed. The loss of work can be due to either you having a diagnosis of COVID-19 and confined to home or hospital, or a household member or someone you care for is diagnosed with COVID-19 and is likewise confined. Your loss of work also qualifies if your employer or work place is closed or you are furloughed because of COVID-19. Furlough is the fancy word for losing pay (while being told not to work), though the employer still officially keeps you as an employee.

If you were scheduled to start new employment, but cannot proceed with the new job because of COVID-19, that too qualifies for CARES benefit.

Independent contractors, gig workers and others who don’t normally qualify for unemployment compensation are also covered under CARES. Thus, Uber drivers, or self-employed hair cutters and the like, can now apply.

CARES also covers non-U.S. citizens who have valid work authorization at the time wages were originally earned and when unemployment is sought. Among those non-citizens also covered are those who fall within the exceptions for non-documentation such as victims of domestic violence or the U.S. Department of Immigration has no plans to deport.

Additional benefits

First, it adds 13 weeks to the eligible period of payment. Under Illinois unemployment law, a person laid off, fired or furloughed may qualify up to a maximum of 26 weeks of payment for any annual period. That can now be extended up to 39 weeks through Dec. 31, 2020, if one qualifies under CARES.

Second, in Illinois, unemployment compensation can be sought up to half of average weekly earnings. That is now the minimum amount this federal law requires to be paid.

Third, through July 31, 2020, an additional $600 is automatically added to the compensation to be paid to you. No additional application need be made.

Unemployment benefit payments remain taxable income under IRS rules and under Illinois income tax law as long as you were an Illinois resident or got your unemployment payment from the Illinois Department of Employment security.

How to apply

If you apply for unemployment because of the CARES eligibility, you must apply on line. Start at www2.illinois.gov.

Because of the number of applications currently overwhelming the IDES staff, beware that the state has been limiting applicants by the first letter of one’s last names to certain odd or even days.

Other than the aforementioned COVID-19 qualifications, the normal rules still apply to disqualify one from unemployment — among which are knowingly and willfully repeatedly violating reasonable employer rules, or voluntarily quitting your job without good cause attributable to employer (like if you’re a chef and the restaurant turns you into wait staff, then that’s good cause to quit and thus apply for unemployment).

With societal quarantining, increased testing and a possible vaccine, hopefully the coronavirus will soon be unemployed as a wrecking ball to humanity.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Inc. Send questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820.