A Nebraskan who experiences a layoff or sees a substantial reduction in hours is eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). After the UI benefits are exhausted, they will qualify for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). The next federal benefit for which they will qualify is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Self-employed people and independent contractors qualify for PUA. Nebraska has waived the unpaid waiting week during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weekly Benefit Amount
Nebraska’s unemployment benefits are 50 percent of an individual’s average weekly wage for their highest paid quarter. The maximum weekly benefit amount (WBA) is $456. Claimants can choose to receive payment by direct deposit or debit card. An individual can expect to receive their card between seven to 10 days after they certify for their first week.
The debit card is a ReliaCard offered by US Bank. It can take between 21 to 28 days to process a claim. After NDOL has processed a claim and established eligibility, the claimant will receive payment within two to three business days of filing their weekly claim. An individual may be eligible for an additional $100 through the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation program (MEUC). Individuals who earned at least $5,000 in self-employment income prior to the pandemic are eligible for this weekly benefit, as well as the benefit amounts they would otherwise be eligible for under traditional unemployment.
Work Search Requirement Reinstated
NDOL reinstated the work search requirement in July 2020. Employees with an employer-confirmed recall date within 112 days of their layoff, individuals in approved training, union members with a hiring hall, and workers in a Short-Time Compensation program are exempt from the work search requirement. In addition, workers in certain industries and those in a Tackling Recidivism And Developing Employment (TRADE) or an approved training program are exempt from the work search requirement.
Qualified job search activities include filing an application online or in person with an employer, conducting a work search using internet job banks, attending a job skills class or workshop, and meeting with a job coach or career counselor. The activities must include two job applications. If Nebraska returns to providing Extended Benefits (EB), and a worker claims these instead of PEUC, the individual claiming EB must submit three job applications a week. To qualify for EB, an individual must have exhausted their UI and PEUC benefits.
An individual can log their reemployment activities in two ways: as soon as they make them but before submitting their weekly claim for benefits, or at the same time they claim their weekly benefits. They will not be able to log their work search contacts for the prior week after they supply their weekly claim for benefits. If the individual’s claim is based on full-time earnings, the work search must be for prospective full-time employment opportunities. If their unemployment claim is based on primarily part-time employment, they can make job contacts for part-time or full-time work.
Assistance in Finding a Job
An unemployed worker can get assistance searching for a job online or in person at their local Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) career center. NDOL provides information about virtual and in-person job fairs on its website, sharing information by region. NDOL also provides data on labor market information online. A claimant can review this data, which may also include career planning information and labor force demographics. This information helps claimants learn about the economic picture in their local area.
If NEworks does not record any activity by a claimant for 90 days, the claimant’s registration will expire. The claimant should open their personal profile, make sure it is up to date, make any necessary changes, such as a change of address, and then save their profile. If the individual’s resume has expired, they should open it, review it and update the information. The claimant can create a new resume at this point. They should save their profile and resume even if they have no changes.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
A claimant is eligible for up to 26 weeks of benefits during one year. Claims take up to 21 days to process. NDOL may call a claimant as soon as their unemployment claim is ready to be completed. An individual cannot file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits unless they first create a personal profile and post their resume online through NEworks. Individuals who have a recall date with their employer within 112 days of their layoff date and members of a union with a hiring hall are exempted from the requirement to post an online resume.
Remaining Eligible for UI
An individual who refuses to accept an offer of suitable employment or an Employment Service referral from the Nebraska Department of Labor may be disqualified for 12 weeks. NDOL may reduce an individual’s maximum benefits amount when it assesses a disqualification. For example, a person may be disqualified from benefits if they are regularly attending school as a full-time student.
The exception to this rule is if the person was a student at the time they earned the majority of wages in their base period. NDOL may apply an exception if the individual is currently enrolled in a training program approved by the Commissioner of Labor. A claimant must be able to work four or more days of the week to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.
CARES Act, PEUC and PUA
Both programs, originally established by the federal government's Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, have been extended by the American Rescue Plan Act. PEUC and PUA are federally funded benefit programs set to expire on September 4, 2021. A former worker is eligible for 53 weeks of PEUC or until the program expires and 79 weeks of PUA or until the program expires.
An individual is eligible for PUA if they are able and available to work other than for reasons relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as caring for a family member who has contracted the coronavirus; their workplace is closed due to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19; or their healthcare provider has asked them to self-quarantine because of a potential exposure to COVID-19.
Proof of Income for PUA
An individual who applies for PUA will need to supply NDOL with proof of earnings prior to the pandemic. Acceptable proof of earnings include one or more W-2 forms, 1099 forms, a 2020 tax return and check stubs. A claimant can upload up to five documents to cover the 18-month period prior to the pandemic. The minimum amount of payment per week for PUA is $174.
Immigrants and Unemployment Benefits
An individual who is an undocumented immigrant is not eligible for state unemployment benefits, like UI or EB, or federal unemployment benefits, like PEUC or PUA. This is because the individual is not considered able and available to work, and so they are not eligible to be lawfully employed in the U.S. However, an individual who is legally in the country, such as a legal permanent resident, or green card holder, may be eligible for state and federal unemployment benefits.
Return to Work
A claimant who is self employed and earning income should report weekly earnings after deducting their direct business expenses for the week. When a person accepts a job, they should log in to their NEworks account and upload a letter from their new employer stating the start date using the Provide Specific Documents link on the Unemployment Services page.
An individual who has returned to work full time can stop filing weekly claims. When a claimant is working reduced hours, they should report all the monies they earned when claiming benefits. NDOL will decide the amount for which the claimant is eligible for every week they worked.
File a Claim
An individual must file weekly, even if their new claim is still being processed, their eligibility is being decided or they have an appeal pending. Claimants have from Sunday to Saturday to file a weekly claim for benefits for the previous week. For assistance, the contact information for the Nebraska Claims Center is 855-995-8863, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
File an Appeal
An individual who does not agree with the determination of the adjudicator regarding their WBA can file an appeal online or by mail within 20 days of the mailing of the notice of the adjudicator’s determination. A claimant cannot save the online form with the information they have entered, so they must print the form and either fax or mail it to the tribunal. It is important that they sign and date the form.
Mass Layoff of Employees
An employer can upload a list of employees separated from work through a mass layoff into NDOL’s system. NDOL will then send the claimant a notification and link that allows the user to directly access their weekly certifications. After the employee files their claim, NDOL will compare the claimant’s response with the employer’s entries regarding that person. The system looks at fields such as Return to Work, Separation Date and Pension.
Schools Are Reopening
Nebraska public schools have reopened for in-person learning. If COVID-19 transmission causes a disruption to in-person education such that schools close, a parent or guardian of a child whose school has been closed may claim unemployment benefits during the time they need to stay home from work to care for their child. A parent or guardian may not claim unemployment benefits if their child’s school has opened for in-person learning, but the adult chooses to keep the child home for distance learning.
Unemployment Insurance Fraud and Penalties
An individual commits unemployment fraud when they fail to provide accurate and complete information to NDOL, including failing to state the amount of earnings when certifying weekly. Penalties for unemployment fraud include repayment of the benefits received, a 15 percent penalty based on the amount of the overpayment and losing eligibility to receive benefits now and in the future. An individual may also be required to forfeit state and federal income tax refunds to NDOL and face criminal charges, resulting in jail time, fines and a criminal record.
Short-Time Compensation (STC) Program
the state of Nebraska’s version of a work share program is called the Short-Time Compensation program. This program helps employers prevent layoffs by uniformly reducing a group of employees’ hours by 10 to 60 percent. During the time the employees’ hours are reduced, they receive a partial unemployment benefit.
In order to be eligible for the STC program, a worker must be available for all their usual hours of work with their STC employer. They are not required to look for other work.
The employer submits a weekly claim for benefits; employees do not need to file a weekly claim. They report the number of hours each worker was offered, the number of hours each worked and any approved leave for the prior week. Benefits are paid based on a percentage equal to the percentage by which their hours are reduced.
- NE Works: Homepage
- Nebraska Department of Labor: Regional Job Fairs
- Nebraska Department of Labor: Unemployment Program Refocusing on Reeemployment Strategies as Nebraskans Return to Work
- Nebraska Department of Labor: Payments, Frequently Asked Questions
- Nebraska Department of Labor: Nebraska Appeal Tribunal, Claimant Forms
- Nebraska Department of Labor: Unemployment, Looking for Work and Accepting a Job
- Nebraska Department of Labor: Claims, Payment
- Nebraska Department of Education: COVID-19 Resources
- Nebraska Department of Correctional Services: TRADE Program Strives to Aid Reentry
- Nebraska Department of Labor: Unemployment Insurance Fraud
- Nebraska Department of Labor Office of Unemployment Insurance: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Portal for Claimants
- Nebraska Department of Labor: NDOL Issues Update on Federal Unemployment Benefits
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.