Employees who are temporarily out of work in the state of Arkansas may be eligible for financial assistance through the state's unemployment insurance benefits program. This program is open to those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. An unemployed worker in Arkansas might be able to get both regular state unemployment benefits and also federal pandemic unemployment assistance through laws passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The federal laws have expanded eligibility, benefits and duration of benefits for state UI recipients. Both programs are administered through the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services (ADWS) and claims are best initiated online.
Arkansas Unemployment Insurance Benefits
In Arkansas, employers finance the unemployment insurance benefit program by paying a tax based on their payroll. Under state law, only employees who work for such companies are eligible for UI benefits; other workers are not. To be eligible, the worker must be out of a job through no fault of their own and they must meet certain financial qualifications to have their claims accepted. This includes earning a minimum amount during the state-defined base period.
Arkansas uses the same formula as many other states for calculating a worker's base period. The ADWS looks at the five completed calendar quarters before a worker files a claim. A quarter is a three-month period like January through March. The Arkansas base period is the first four of these five calendar quarters.
Like other states, Arkansas pays qualified workers weekly unemployment benefits. These can continue for 25 weeks if the employee remains out of work and is seeking work. Claimants certify their continued eligibility every two weeks in order to be paid. The weekly Arkansas benefit is based on the worker's earnings during the base period and must be between the state minimum weekly benefit amount of $81 and the state maximum of $451.
Federal UI Benefits
Unemployment benefits are generally a state matter, with regular unemployment programs determined and regulated solely by the states. However, sometimes the federal government steps up to supplement the state programs. When the COVID-19 virus spread, and the pandemic closed down the U.S. in 2020, Congress enacted a financial assistance bill called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This legislation was intended to assist workers who lost their jobs or income because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The CARES Act was signed into law in March, 2020. It expanded UI eligibility in all states and paid a supplemental pandemic unemployment benefit of $600 to every worker receiving state unemployment in Arkansas and in all other states. These were termed federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits.
The bill also added up to 13 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits and extended UI eligibility to self-employed and gig workers, individuals not generally covered under state UI programs. This was implemented under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Extensions to Federal UI Programs
The federal supplemental benefits program that paid an additional $600 a week to UI claimants ended on July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, claimants in Arkansas received the state UI benefit amount, but no federal supplement.
The federal program was amended in December, 2020, by the Continued Assistance Act (CAA). This law offered UI claimants a supplement of $300 per week in addition to state-provided benefits, running from December 26, 2020, to March 14, 2021. The supplemental payments were further extended through September 6, 2021, by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that was signed into law on March 11, 2021.
The CAA that extended the benefit duration by 13 weeks was due to expire on December 31, 2020. However, it was extended to March 14, 2021, and the extension was increased to 24 additional weeks of UI benefits. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 additionally increased the number of benefit weeks available to Arkansas residents to a total of 70 weeks.
Extension of Benefits to Self-Employed Workers
The federal law that extended unemployment benefits to independent contractors, self-employed and gig employees was to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA legislation extended this program through March 14, 2021, and the American Rescue Plan of 2021 further extended it to September 6, 2021.
Arkansas Unemployment Laws
Any Arkansan interested in regular or federal UI benefits can apply for unemployment insurance benefits from Arkansas' Department of Workforce Services. Once a claim has been filed, the agency reviews it and determines whether the worker is eligible. Some of the legal eligibility requirements for the two programs are different. For example, federal, but not state, UI is available to gig workers, but the state agency reviews a claim under both programs.
No worker automatically gets UI benefits; workers must present a benefits claim by first filing an application. The information provided helps the agency determine whether a claimant is eligible for unemployment benefits under the applicable law.
Eligibility under Arkansas state law requires that a worker:
- Is unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
- Is able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
- Meets certain financial requirements regarding income earned during the base period.
Arkansas UI and Fault
The idea behind unemployment insurance in Arkansas is to provide a financial bridge to state workers, assisting those who are temporarily out of work and haven't found a new job. Eligibility can turn on the reason that a worker lost their job, since a worker must be out of work through no fault of their own. For example, if an Arkansas employee is fired as part of a company downturn, it is through no fault of their own, but if the employee is fired for stealing money from the company, they will not be eligible for UI benefits. Misconduct in Arkansas that is sufficient to disqualify a worker can include frequently being late to work or failing a drug test.
The fact that an employee is fired suggests that they were at fault, but that is not conclusive. If a worker lacked the skills to perform the work and was fired for that reason, they may be still be eligible for UI.
Workers who quit a job in Arkansas remain eligible if they had good cause for quitting, which is defined as a reason that would make a worker feel they had no choice but to quit. This might be an employer's failure to pay the worker or forcing the worker into unsafe working conditions. Certain personal reasons may also be sufficient in Arkansas, like leaving a job because of a medical condition.
Federal Law Modifies Fault Rules
Arkansas' UI rules about fault have been modified by the federal legislation creating pandemic UI benefits. The legislation relaxed the fault rules to a certain extent by adding a variety of valid coronavirus-related reasons that a worker might have to leave their job that will not disqualify them for state UI.
The permissible reasons to stop working include circumstances where a worker has contracted the virus or has possibly been exposed to the virus, or where the worker has been told by medical personnel to stay home so they are not exposed to the virus or won't expose others. It is also permissible to quit and get UI benefits if a person that the worker lives with is ill with coronavirus and they are caring for them, or if they have to care for a child at home because the child's school or child care center is closed due to coronavirus.
Job Seeker Requirements
No state wants to pay UI benefits to a worker taking a long vacation or a stay-at-home break from the labor market. Arkansas' UI program is intended to provide benefits to employees who are between jobs, not to pay workers who want some time off. A worker is only eligible for state unemployment benefits in Arkansas if they want to work, are available to work and are actively seeking work. Under Arkansas law, an employee is considered available for work only if they are not prevented from accepting work by other issues, like not having transportation or child care.
Arkansas workers who wish to continue to receive state unemployment benefits must engage in a good faith search for work. The worker has to report their job contacts to the agency. They must register with DWS Employment Services, which will let them know how many job contacts they must make as part of their work search each week.
Pandemic Unemployment Modifications
When the pandemic was declared, most businesses were closed down in this country. At that point, the federal government modified Arkansas' available-to-work requirements, as well as those of all other states. The modifications permit a worker to continue to receive benefits without looking for work in certain, COVID-related situations.
Under the terms of the CARES Act, a worker doesn't have to look for work to get UI benefits if they have COVID-19; are caring for someone who has COVID-19; or are taking care of minor children because schools are closed as a result of COVID-19. Likewise, if a worker has been ordered by their doctor not to leave home or by government order, they can also continue to collect UI without looking for a job.
Minimum Income Requirements
Arkansas requires that a worker meet several financial hurdles in order to qualify for UI benefits in the state. The requirements also apply to federal pandemic benefits for Arkansas workers, so if a worker does not meet the state requirements, they will not get state or federal UI help.
First, Arkansas requires that, to qualify for UI benefits, a claimant must have earned wages in at least two of the four calendar quarters of the base period. (As discussed above, the base period consists of the four earliest of the five complete calendar quarters before the worker filed their claim.) In addition, wages earned by the worker during the entire base period must total at least 35 times the worker's weekly UI benefit amount.
Applying for the Arkansas Unemployment Insurance Program
A worker seeking Arkansas UI benefits may either file an unemployment insurance claim by phone or online. Given how many people are applying for UI benefits, phone lines are often busy, so online may be the best and fastest filing method. An online UI portal, EZARC, is available to claimants Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. A worker can set up a password-protected account, then fill out an application at this portal, following the easy-to-follow instructions.
In order to properly fill out the claim, a worker needs personal information, like their Social Security number and work-related information such as the name, mailing address, location and phone number of the worker's last employer; the first and last days worked; and information about earnings from work and other income received like vacation, severance or bonus pay. The claim is effective on Sunday of the week in which it is filed.
Calculating Arkansas Benefit Amount
The Arkansas Division of Workforce Services calculates a worker's weekly UI benefit using the highest paid calendar quarter of the base period. The formula for determining the weekly benefit amount is to divide the worker's earnings in the highest-paid calendar quarter by 26.
The benefit amount must be between the minimum of $81 per week and the maximum of $451 per week. Add to this the federal pandemic supplement of $300 a week. The more a worker earns in the base period, the higher their weekly state benefit.
In Arkansas, UI benefits are available for up to 25 weeks. However, the CARES Act and other federal laws have extended the duration of benefits to 69 weeks. That provision is effective through September 6, 2021.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.