Unemployment office: COVID-19 impacted workers “eligible to file” but not necessarily approved for benefits

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Anna Wolfe

Website glitches have hampered some trying to file claims.

One day after Mississippi’s unemployment office released a statement suggesting it intended to support workers affected by COVID-19, it published a FAQ clarifying that most eligibility requirements had not changed.

The statement Friday said that the agency was “modifying existing unemployment compensation rules to allow workers to file a claim for unemployment benefits who are affected” in specific ways by COVID-19.

This included folks diagnosed with COVID-19 and those who are caring for an immediate family member diagnosed with the virus. But the FAQ released Saturday suggests these folks would not actually be eligible to receive the benefit because “you are required to be able and available to work.”

Other impacted people — those laid off due to coronavirus-related business closures, quarantined by a doctor or fired for not coming to work due to the virus — may file a claim and “determination will be made concerning your eligibility,” it said, “on a case-by-case basis.”

Additionally, independent contractors, who were not eligible for unemployment benefits before, won’t be eligible even if they lose work due to the coronavirus. “Should there be any state or federal declarations that determines an independent Contractor or self-employed worker eligible resulting from a claim filed related to the COVID-19 virus, MDES is ready to apply any guidelines rendered in the declaration,” it said.

Though agency director Jackie Turner said Friday the department was moving employees to the call center to deal with the uptick of applicants, some clients Mississippi Today interviewed have had to wait on hold for hours as the office struggles to handle the increased workload. The agency has encouraged people to file online, but website glitches have prevented people from successfully filing claims, Mississippi Today witnessed Saturday.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced Saturday Mississippi will waive work search requirements for folks receiving unemployment until June 27. Normally, a person must file weekly certifications proving they looked for work in order to receive their next payment. The state will also suspend the “waiting week” — which requires a person seeking unemployment to wait until the second week after they’re approved before they start receiving a check.

Folks applying for unemployment may do so at www.mdes.ms.gov or by calling 1-888-844-3577