How To File for Unemployment if You Work Part Time

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Often when people lose a job, they dive into part-time work to make ends meet. While not working full time will most likely amount to a pay decrease, you may still be eligible to receive unemployment benefits while working part time. Learn what partial unemployment is and how to file for it. 

What Is Partial Unemployment?

“Partial unemployment is when an individual is working reduced hours, through no fault of their own, and is sometimes referred to as being ‘underemployed,’” Leslie Tayne, founder and head attorney at debt solutions law firm Tayne Law Group, told The Balance in an email. “Depending on the number of hours/days the claimant reports, the state will typically reduce benefits by a certain amount or percentage.” 

In December 2020, there were about 6 million people employed part time due to reduced hours or the inability to find full-time jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This represents a drastic decline from the April 2020 high of 10.9 million people, but it’s still a significant number of individuals without full-time work.  

State law determines who is eligible for partial unemployment benefits. You are considered eligible if your hours were reduced from your current job or if you’re working part time and are in search of other opportunities. In most cases, an individual is not considered eligible if they voluntarily choose to work part time.

What To Expect With Partial Unemployment

“With partial unemployment, claimants still need to certify their benefits each week with their state’s unemployment office, including reporting the number of days/hours worked in the previous week,” Tayne said.

Your unemployment benefit amount is determined by the state you live in and is typically based on how much you earn or have earned and how many hours you work. The state will typically determine a reasonable weekly value and then subtract the amount you make from work each week.

“Each state is different, and in New York, for example, the individual working part time must make $504 or less and work no more than 30 hours to be eligible for partial benefits,” Tayne said. “Benefits are reduced by how many hours the individual worked in a week. So a person working 11 to 20 hours in a week will have benefits decreased by 50%.” 

For eligibility and benefits guidelines, check with your state unemployment office.

If you fail to certify your gross weekly pay, the benefits will be discontinued. Also, you can’t certify in advance because your certification is for the previous week. For the week of Sunday, March 7 through Saturday, March 13, for example, the earliest you could certify is on Sunday, March 14. If you end up collecting more unemployment benefits than you are eligible for because you did not report earnings, there are severe penalties, as you could be committing fraud. 

How To File for Partial Unemployment

The process of filing for partial unemployment is the same as filing for regular or full-time unemployment. To file a new claim or check eligibility, visit your state’s Department of Labor site. Most state’s have an FAQ page that is a great resource to confirm any questions you have about eligibility which, according to Tayne, is often easier than calling the organization directly.  

“Call centers have had extraordinarily high wait times since the pandemic started, so try calling when you have time to spare if you need to speak to a live representative,” Tayne explained. 

Prior to filing for partial unemployment, it helps to gather all necessary information in advance, including your tax returns from the previous year, addresses and dates of former employment, and the exact amount of your gross wages.

Potential Roadblocks

Partial unemployment can limit the amount of money you can make, resulting in a catch-22. For example, if your benefit amount is calculated to be $300 a week, and you earn $350 a week working part time, you’ve earned too much money to qualify for unemployment benefits. 

You are required by law to certify that you are actively looking for full-time work if you want to receive part-time unemployment benefits. If you don’t search for work and prove you are continually searching during a week in which you file a claim, the benefits may be denied.

It’s also important to be patient when filing your initial claim. If your application is approved, it usually takes two to three weeks to start receiving your benefits. This is where filing online once again provides an advantage. Once you create an account, you can log into the system and get updates as to whether there were any problems with a weekly certification.

COVID-19 Unemployment 

On Dec. 27, 2020, former President Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 into law. It reauthorizes and extends federal pandemic unemployment compensation payments to unemployed and underemployed workers, offering an additional $300 a week in benefits through March 14, 2021.

“COVID-19 has loosened eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. Those that are self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or quit their job because of COVID-19, are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” Tayne said.  “Standard unemployment insurance assistance doesn’t typically cover independent contractors and self-employed workers.” 

How To Save Money While on Partial Unemployment

It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible to save money and budget for long-term unemployment while on partial unemployment. “Start budgeting or modify your current budget as soon as possible, and look for opportunities to reduce spending and increase cash flow,” Tayne said.

If you have leftover funds in your budget, she recommends transferring some money each week into a savings account. If you save just $10 each week, it will translate to over $500 at the end of the year.

Also, stay on top of your bills to ensure your credit score doesn’t suffer. “It might be a good idea to contact lenders and explain that you’re facing financial hardship due to the pandemic after you file for unemployment,” Tayne said. “While you’ll still be responsible for debts that you owe, the lender may have a forbearance program, waive interest or late fees, or otherwise be able to assist you.