Can I Collect North Carolina Unemployment Benefits & Attend School?

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A person attending school part time or full time can claim unemployment benefits if they could start a full-time job if they were offered work tomorrow. A student may also be able to claim unemployment benefits if they are in a program approved by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) or the Trade Adjustment Act (TAA). They can also claim unemployment benefits for specific reasons related to COVID-19 and safety measures at their workplace.

UI Eligibility Requirements

In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, a person must be unemployed through no fault of their own; have earned enough wages to establish eligibility; be physically able, available and actively seeking work; and have registered for work with NC Works Online. A person who is unemployed and in school is eligible for North Carolina unemployment insurance if they earned sufficient wages during their base period. The individual must be unemployed because they were laid off or saw a substantial reduction in hours through no fault of their own.

The minimum weekly benefit amount (WBA) in North Carolina is $15, and the maximum weekly benefit amount is $350. An individual is not eligible to receive UI benefits for those weeks in which they are being monetarily compensated for vacation time or sick pay.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

A student who was self-employed or an independent contractor prior to the COVID-19 pandemic will be eligible to claim Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). A student who has exhausted UI and subsequently Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) may also be eligible for PUA. An individual claiming PUA benefits must submit documents to show proof of income. While state unemployment insurance will continue past the pandemic, a claimant is limited to 53 weeks of PEUC or until September 4, 2021 and 79 weeks of PUA or until September 4, 2021.

Acceptable documents that show proof of self-employment income include: tax returns, recent paycheck stubs, bank receipts, 1099 forms, billing statements and notices, business licenses and contracts, invoices and ledgers.

Acceptable documents to show COVID-19 as the reason for lost work for PUA include: documentation from medical professionals related to diagnosis or isolation instructions; notices from schools or childcare providers; notices from county or state government regarding business closures or stay at home orders; and documentation that a job offer or need for the claimant’s services was cancelled or delayed due to COVID-19. When claim volumes are high, it may take several weeks for the North Carolina Division of Employment Security (DES) to provide the claimant with a determination of benefits.

Program Changes Due to COVID-19 Coronavirus

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, full-time students from all fields of study lost their employment. Reasons for losing a job ranged from schools being unable to offer work-study jobs because of compliance with shelter-in-place orders to a drop in demand for goods and services from private employers. As North Carolina enters a reopening phase, whether a college student can continue to receive unemployment insurance benefits depends on multiple factors.

When a student’s job reopens and their employer wants them back, but the student is not comfortable returning for health reasons, they may still be able to receive unemployment. This depends on the student’s personal health risks, whether the employer has complied with health precautions and whether they are offering remote work options. A student has a stronger case if they are 65 or older or have a medical condition that puts them at higher risk from COVID-19.

A student will qualify for UI if they quit because they received COVID-19 or are caring for a family member or a member of their household who contracted COVID-19. A student who was furloughed will be eligible to receive unemployment if they got a severance package as part of their furlough. A student will qualify for UI if their child’s school or day care facilities remain closed and they have to stay home to care for their child. A parent or guardian is expected to locate an alternate day care facility so they can return to work; a parent or guardian is not expected to locate an alternate K-12 school.

Benefits for Reduced Hours

A student seeking work may be eligible to claim benefits from an assistance program like UI if they return to work, but are working reduced hours. This is because the benefits program will make up the difference in their pay, up to the claimant’s weekly benefit amount. North Carolina does not have a work share program, in which an employer retains a group of workers by uniformly reducing their hours.

Work Search Requirement Reinstated

North Carolina is currently requiring claimants to perform a work search. DES mandates that a claimant make contact with three different employers a week and keep a record of their job search. A claimant may temporarily satisfy two of the three contacts by participating in reemployment activities like workshops and career fairs, including digital events of these types. The events may be held by NC Works or partnering entities.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

The WIOA allows North Carolina to train its workforce. An individual can seek assistance with career services and support for their education and training under WIOA. The first step is to contact a local NC Works Career Center.

A claimant can also do a search of which educational providers in their local area are using NC Works. For example, a search on Carteret Community College reveals eight pages of training programs that are approved under the WIOA. Offerings include an administrative assistant certificate program and basic law enforcement training. The program for which a full-time student was in school prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic may not be on the list of WIOA-approved programs.

Trade Adjustment Assistance Program

Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) offers assistance to individuals who have been laid off due to the shift of production or import of goods and services from other countries. TAA helps workers return to employment by providing income support, or a Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA), through weekly benefits. An individual becomes eligible for receiving a TRA when they are laid off from a trade-affected employer covered under a petition issued by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The individual must have worked for the employer at least 26 weeks in one year before leaving and earned at least $30 in each of the weeks. They must also meet certain deadlines to enroll in approved training courses. An individual must do a weekly certification for each benefit week. They can earn up to their weekly earning allowance without affecting their benefits. If they earn over this amount, DES will deduct the overage dollar-for-dollar from the claimant’s weekly benefit amount.

Claimants and Financial Aid

A person who is currently claiming unemployment benefits may be able to demonstrate a strong need for federal financial aid, as well as state financial aid and scholarships. The federal Pell Grant program in particular provides need-based higher education grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post baccalaureate students. Once the student begins their program of study, they may no longer be eligible to claim unemployment benefits.