Dependents can usually receive unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, provided they meet the caveats that state unemployment agencies require of anyone filing. During the coronavirus pandemic, federal legislation has made UI requirements for dependents, particularly college students, a little less strict than they usually are.
What Is a Dependent?
According to Investopedia, a dependent is a person on whom another person relies for financial support. Dependents are people other than the primary taxpayer or their spouse in a family and allow the taxpayer to claim them as an exemption on their tax return. When the person filing their tax return shows proof of their dependents, it often makes them eligible for specific tax credits.
A dependent is a qualifying child or another qualifying relative. A dependent child must be the taxpayer's biological offspring or a stepchild, a foster child from an authorized agency or a descendant. But they can also be a brother, sister, half brother, half sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant such as a niece or a nephew.
Dependents are usually under 19 years old; if they are full-time students, they are under 24. They must live with the taxpayer for more than six months a year and cannot provide more than half of their own support during that time. If the dependent is another qualifying relative, they can be any age, but the support and residency requirements remain the same.
Eligibility Requirements for UI Benefits
Anyone filing for UI benefits can get them, provided they meet their state's eligibility requirements. They must have earned enough wages during the first four quarters of a five-quarter base period during a recent calendar year. For applicants who didn't work for that long or who didn't earn that much during that time, there is usually an alternative base period in which a state calculates the last four calendar quarters of the applicant's most recent employment.
Applicants must also show that they lost a job through no fault of their own, such as layoffs, a lack of work or a reduction in force. They should be physically able, and have the availability, to work. They must also show a willingness to work immediately.
Quitting, Firings and Unemployment Compensation
When someone quits or gets fired, they usually don't receive UI benefits. However, unemployment agencies will allow them to do so under certain circumstances. If they quit with "good cause," they will likely get benefits. Good cause can be a circumstance involving sexual harassment, a dangerous workplace environment or following their spouse to another job. Quitting because they don't like a job doesn't allow for benefits.
A successful UI claim in the event of a firing also depends on its circumstances. If an applicant just wasn't a good fit or otherwise lacked the skills to perform the tasks at hand, they may receive benefits. However, if they were fired as a result of misconduct, they won't be eligible. Misconduct usually takes place if:
- The employee shirked material duties – those elements necessary to properly carry out the job, such as arriving on time and performing the responsibilities of the position.
- The worker has shown a repeated disregard for these duties.
- The worker has acted intentionally or has otherwise shown recklessness, regardless of the consequences.
- The employee has jeopardized their employer's business interests through their actions.
Additional Benefits and COVID-19
In mid-March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered everything but essential businesses. Every state lost jobs in every industry overnight, and unemployment claims came in by the millions. The federal government stepped in to help ailing companies and individuals with the creation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act. This allowed claimants to get an extension of their regular UI weekly benefits and gave people who usually don't receive benefits the opportunity to get them. For example, one program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), gave freelancers, gig workers, independent contractors and others affected by COVID-19 the ability to collect benefits.
The CARES Act and its programs ended on March 13, 2021, but Congress, through the Biden administration, has extended them under the American Rescue Plan Act. This program will continue funding to all CARES Act recipients, with an additional $300 a week to those receiving UI and PUA benefits. The American Rescue Plan Act continues through September 2021.
College Students and UI Benefits
According to CNBC, college students, who are usually not eligible for benefit payments, can now receive them if they can prove they had paid work in 2019 through PUA. Before this, they generally didn't qualify because they didn't meet their state's availability requirements or may not have earned enough for standard UI benefits.
Full-time students who are eligible for benefits must have worked at least part time, and their lack of employment must be due to the coronavirus pandemic. Their unemployment insurance benefits will continue through the American Rescue Plan Act, with the additional enhancement of $300 per week. Students who are dependents can also apply for services based on the calculations from their 2019 tax returns if they meet state unemployment insurance program requirements.
Certification Requirements for Applicants
Most states require UI claimants to register on their jobs website and post their resume. Applicants should check with their unemployment office for specific details, particularly during the pandemic. If their state does require it, and the applicant does not do it, they may see a delay or loss of benefits.
Whether a claimant receives PUA or standard UI benefits, they must certify for them online every week. They can also do this by mail or phone, but it may take longer to receive their benefits. If claimants do not meet certification requirements or their certification is incomplete, their state's unemployment department will likely contact them to determine eligibility. If the state denies them benefits for some reason, they can appeal the ruling at a later date.
COVID-19 and Certification Changes
In 2021, many people have not yet gone back to work and unemployment is still at an all-time high. As a result, state agencies may have waived a few elements of the certification process. For example, there is currently no requirement that an applicant keep a record of their job search in California. Also, since January 19, 2020, the state stopped its seven-day waiting period for claims. Applicants submitting their first two-weeks of unemployment certification will get paid for the first week.
Despite not having to show a record of their job search, claimants must still show their availability to work for the weeks they certify. They can file for benefits while attending school or working part time, but they must report their hours and wages if they made any income. Certification requirements may vary from state to state, so applicants should check with their unemployment department prior to filing.
- CNBC: A Little-known Part of the CARES Act Lets College Students Collect Unemployment
- California Employment Development Department: Eligibility Requirements
- NOLO: Collecting Unemployment Benefits
- NOLO: Unemployment Compensation: Understanding the Base Period
- Investopedia: Dependent
- U.S. Department of the Treasury: The CARES Act Provides Assistance to Workers and Their Families
- CNBC: The House Passed the American Rescue Plan. Here’s What It Offers Unemployed Workers
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.