If you’ve lost your job, work hours or self-employment income directly due to Hurricane Sandy, then you might be eligible to collect hurricane unemployment benefits through a special federal program called Disaster Unemployment Assistance.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) often becomes available after the U.S. president declares one or more major disaster areas because of damage caused by a natural disaster, such as that caused by Hurricane Sandy. For DUA to become available, the federal government must offer the funding to the damaged states, if warranted, and then the governors must request it.
So far, President Obama has declared disaster areas in New York and New Jersey because of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Federal aid available in the declared disaster areas includes up to 26 weeks in unemployment payments (DUA) per person, if requested by the governors.
Update 11/17/2012: President Obama has also declared disaster areas in Delaware because of Sandy, but there is no mention about the availability of hurricane unemployment benefits (DUA). But you still might be eligible for standard state unemployment benefits, if damage from Sandy caused you to lose your job or work hours (keep reading below). EmployeeIssues.com will update this post again if the president declares disaster areas in more states because of Sandy. In the meantime, you may check for more at the Web site of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Update 11/4/2012: President Obama has declared disaster areas in Rhode Island due to Sandy. However, there is no mention about the availability of DUA.
Update 10/31/12: President Obama has declared disaster areas in the state of Connecticut due to Sandy, with up to 26 weeks of DUA potentially available.
DUA is for workers who lost their jobs or couldn’t work directly due to a natural disaster, but are not eligible for standard state unemployment benefits (or benefit extensions or disability benefits). If losing your job or work hours directly due to Hurricane Sandy makes you eligible for standard benefits, then you’d collect those instead of DUA.
If you’re a self-employed individual and you’ve lost income directly due to Hurricane Sandy, then you too might be eligible for DUA. DUA is also for those who have become household breadwinners because the previous breadwinners died as direct result of a natural disaster. The same goes for those who couldn’t start the new jobs they had landed, directly due to a natural disaster.
You must file a claim to determine your final eligibility for hurricane unemployment benefits, whether standard or DUA. To file a claim, start by contacting or visiting the nearest state unemployment office or comprehensive One-Stop Career Center. Many provide facilities for filing claims over the Internet or by phone. Some might set up temporary facilities to take claims after a disaster, such as toll-free hotlines and mobile offices.
Don’t delay for long in filing your claim for DUA, as the window is open for only 30 days after it becomes available. However, if hurricane damage is severe or local unemployment offices or One-Stops are closed because of damage, then states typically extend the deadline.
Of course, it takes time to distribute the DUA funds; subsequently, DUA is not likely to be immediately available after a disaster declaration. Watch the Web site of the relevant state unemployment office or visit or call its nearest office for information regarding same. Unemployment office Web sites typically post such information on their home pages or in news releases.
Beware! Con artists often attempt to scam victims by charging fraudulent fees to file claims for hurricane unemployment benefits. Never pay a fee, as filing a claim for DUA or any other government-provided unemployment benefits is always free. Refer to Disaster Recovery Consumer Information from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for information about more scams to avoid.
If you need other disaster assistance due to Hurricane Sandy, see Apply for Assistance at FEMA’s Web site or call FEMA at (800) 621-3362. If you have speech or hearing impairments, then you may instead call FEMA at (800) 462-7585 through your TTY device.
If you’re low on cash and need legal assistance as a victim of Hurricane Sandy or a related scam, some local lawyers often volunteer to help disaster victims by charging no fees (pro bono) or relatively small fees. A free lawyer referral service might be able to help you find such a lawyer, as might a non-profit legal-aid organization.
See Disaster Unemployment Assistance for more information about same regarding any natural disaster.