Mississippi's high unemployment began in March 2020, when the state and the country locked down due to COVID-19. The pandemic forced thousands of Mississippians to file for unemployment insurance benefits with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES). Congress helped fund state unemployment benefits with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. While the pandemic is not yet over, Mississippi officials may end these extended benefits earlier than their projected end date of September 2021.
CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act
In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic caused Mississippians to lose their jobs overnight. Along with every state agency around the country, the MDES had to process thousands of new claims and extend benefits to workers while the state was on lockdown. To aid the newly unemployed, Congress passed the CARES Act, which includes several programs to extend benefits or give them to people who don't normally receive them in times of regular unemployment.
Gig workers and the self-employed received payments from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) fund, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) extended UI state benefits to recipients for an additional 13 weeks.
The CARES Act ended on March 13, 2021, but its programs continue under the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan Act, which went into effect immediately after the CARES Act ended. It adds $300 a week to UI, PUA, and PEUC beneficiaries, as many people have yet to return to work. Its benefits are due to end on September 6, 2021.
End of Pandemic Benefits in Mississippi
According to CNBC, Mississippi is one of several states opting out of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Some UI benefits may end as early as June 12, 2021. When this happens, claimants will lose the weekly $300 extra they currently receive and there is a chance that independent contractors will lose benefits outright. Mississippi officials want to end most UI payments because of labor shortages in the state, which they believe are due to these enhanced benefits.
However, in some instances, federal law may override the wishes of the state. According to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, the United States Department of Labor may have the legal power to keep aiding the self-employed and others who receive benefits under specific CARES Act wording.
Eligibility Requirements in Mississippi
When filing an unemployment claim in Mississippi, applicants must meet these eligibility requirements:
- Unemployment must have occurred through no fault of their own, such as layoffs, a reduction in force or lack of work.
- They must show availability to work while receiving benefits.
- They must seek full-time employment while receiving benefits.
- They must have made enough wage credits in the state's base period (first four of five complete quarters before filing the claim.
- They must register for work at a local WIN Job Center.
The MDES will investigate claimants who have quit or lost their jobs due to firing to determine their eligibility. There may be a denial or a delay of benefits if any of these circumstances are true:
- They quit their job without good cause.
- They lost work due to misconduct while on the job.
- They failed to apply for, or to accept, a suitable job.
- They lost work due to a labor dispute.
- They receive a pension to which their former employer contributes.
- They get or seek UI benefits from another state.
Registering and Filing a UI Claim
Applicants can register and file for UI benefits in one of three ways: online, by phone or at their WIN Job Center. They can file on the MDES website 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Applicants who do not have access to the internet at home can use computers at public libraries or at a WIN Center. To register by phone, applicants should call 601-855-3133 or 888-844-3577.
No matter how they register, applicants must give specific information to the MDES regarding their claim. Anything that is left out or incorrect will result in a delay of payments. The MDES needs:
- Claimant's Social Security number.
- Contact information of employee and their employers over the last 18 months.
- Alien registration or visa number, if not a U.S. citizen.
- Dates they worked and reasons for leaving the employer.
What to Expect in Unemployment Benefits
In Mississippi, the Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) is between $30 and $235. Claimants can collect benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks if they continue to meet eligibility requirements each week. Claimants who work part time can still get benefits if their earnings do not exceed the claim amount. When they return to full-time work, they can simply stop certifying their weekly claims. MDES requires the deduction from an applicant's UI payments if the claimant owes any child support. Claimants will receive notification by the MDHS if this happens.
Filing Continued Unemployment Insurance Claims
After filing their first claim, workers must certify for each week of benefits. Failure to do so in a timely matter can delay or stop payments. Each week starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday; claimants must certify after completing each week, but before the next week starts.
Unemployed workers filing for benefits each week can do so through the MDES Online Unemployment Services portal and can access it outside of regular business hours. If an applicant does not have an existing user ID and password in the MDES system, they must create new login information before filing.
Payment Options for Claimants
Claimants can receive UI payments via direct deposit or a debit card. When registering their account online, if they wish to receive payment via direct deposit, they must do the following once they are on the Claimant Services page:
- Go to the Update Claimant Profile tab.
- Select Payment Option to enter bank information, including routing and account numbers.
- Email a photo of the back and front of a voided check; driver's license or state-issued ID; and Social Security card. Once the MDES verifies this information, it will process the direct deposit.
People who don't request a direct deposit will get a debit card issued by Comerica Bank. Claimants can use the card for up to three years. The MDES advises them to keep the card until it expires, even if they're not currently certifying claims.
Overpayment of Benefits
In some instances, claimants receive an overpayment of UI benefits, which can happen due to an error on the part of the MDES or the failure of a claimant to adequately report income. Claimants must report all earnings, even if they weren't paid in a particular week but they worked the hours. The agency uses its Benefit Payment Control (BPC) program to search for overpayments and possible fraud by cross-matching the claimant's account with wages reported by businesses in Mississippi and other states.
If the MDES discovers a failure to report earnings or other fraudulent actions such as falsifying wage or medical statements, its Unemployment Insurance Division may disqualify the claimant from receiving further payments and ask for the money back. Since fraud is also illegal, the state may seek criminal prosecution, subjecting the claimant to a fine of up to $500 and a maximum of 30 days in jail for each claim filed.
Repaying UI Benefits to the State
When the MDES asks for the repayment of benefits, claimants must comply or face severe financial consequences. Failing to do so will result in the issuance of a collection warrant or lien and potentially garnishment of their wages. The MDES may also intercept the claimant's state or federal tax refunds and offset future unemployment benefits by applying them to the overpayment. The claimant will also owe interest on the balance, which accrues at 1 percent per month.
Even if the overpayment is the fault of the MDES, claimants must return the money in full within 60 days or make minimum payments of $150 every 30 days until satisfying the debt. Claimants can send payments to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, Benefit Payment Control Department, P.O. Box 22730, Jackson, Mississippi 39225-2273.
Scams and UI Benefits
Scammers are everywhere, and many attempt to get personal information or benefits from UI claimants. There will never be a fee to file for UI, nor will anyone call from MDES to ask a claimant for money. Many false websites ask workers for personal information, so MDES asks that anyone seeking benefits use only the official MDES website. Any requests for confidential information will come only from agency-issued correspondence.
The MDES will never contact claimants through social media or demand the verification of someone's identity to process a claim. When approval of benefits occurs, the applicant receives a secure message through the official MDES online services website with their monetary determination. Also, the agency does not ask anyone to take surveys – this is usually a phishing attempt for personal information.
Appealing a Denial of Benefits
Sometimes, the MDES denies a worker's claim, which can occur for several reasons. They have the right to appeal this denial to a judge, who, in turn, makes a decision regarding the worker's claim. If the worker disagrees with the judge's decision, they can make another appeal to the Board of Review and can further appeal that decision to the Circuit Court.
The claimant must file their appeal request within 14 days of the mailing date of their benefits determination and include their Social Security number. They can make their appeal in person at any local WIN Job Center, over the phone by calling 866-633-7041 or by mailing a signed letter to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, Appeals Department P.O. Box 1699, Jackson, Mississippi 39215-1699.
UI Benefits and Taxes
All benefit payments are taxable under the Tax Reform Act of 1986. At the end of the year, workers will receive a Form 1099-G for filing their taxes. The IRS also gets a copy so it is important to give the MDES any change of address information, even when the claim runs out.
Applicants pay 90 percent of their unemployment taxes through withholding or estimated quarterly payments throughout the year. When certifying, they can request to have 10 percent of their benefits withheld for federal taxes. The MDES deducts this amount after making other deductions, including overpayments, pensions and child support payments.
- CNBC: At Least 11 States Ending Unemployment Benefits Early. Gig Workers May Be Able to Keep Them
- MDES: Benefit Eligibility Requirements
- MDES: WIN Job Centers
- MDES: Register With MDES
- MDES: Weekly Claims Procedures
- MDES: Claimant Services
- MDES: Mississippi Prepaid Card Issued by Comerica
- MDES: Benefit Payment Control
- MDES: Be Aware of Potential Fraud
- MDES: Appeals Process
- MDES: UI Claimant Handbook
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.