Before the COVID-19 pandemic, North Carolina processed an average of 3,000 unemployment claims each week. In the first six weeks after the pandemic, the state was averaging 136,000 unemployment claims each week. The surge of claims taxed the system resulting in excessive hold times, dropped calls, and significant delays in processing claims.
The good news is the that DES has taken action to increase capacity in the face of this historic surge and new programs and has hired 850 additional personnel and increased its number of servers and computers. They continue to encourage new claimants to use their online services. While you may file over the phone if you don’t have access to a computer or you need help, you will experience long wait times. In August, they also required all weekly claims to be filed electronically to reduce the number of incoming phone calls.
Currently, the agency is reprogramming its system for payments under the Lost Wages Assistance program (LWA). Amounts due between August 1 and August 15 will be paid retroactively to those who qualify.
The North Carolina Department of Commerce oversees a variety of economic, community, and workforce development policies and programs. The Division of Employment Security (DES) manages the state’s unemployment insurance program by processing claims and paying benefits. See below for details on the newly enhanced unemployment benefits available and how to file a claim.
COVID 19 Enhanced Benefits in North Carolina
Under the CARES act, there are three types of federal unemployment assistance available:
• Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): expands eligibility for individuals who are ineligible for unemployment benefits, including independent contractors and self-employed individuals. Recipients may receive up to 39 weeks of benefits under this program.
• Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): adds $600 per week in addition to the regular benefits that recipients of Unemployment Insurance are entitled to receive; the benefit is retroactive to the week beginning March 29, 2020[U4] , and the program expired on July 25, 2020.
• Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): provides an additional 13 weeks of Unemployment benefits to recipients of regular unemployment insurance.
If you have exhausted benefits paid through the PEUC program, the Extended Benefit (EB) program covers an additional 9.6 weeks of unemployment benefits. This program runs through December 26.
In addition to the above, you may be eligible for Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) if you are out of work due to COVID-19, your current weekly benefit payment is at least $100, and you were eligible for unemployment benefits, you may receive an additional $300 in assistance. You do not need to file a separate request; however, you may need to self-certify to confirm that you are unemployed due to COVID-19.
This benefit is provided through FEMA and is currently funded for up to 6 weeks, for the benefit weeks ending August 1, August 8, August 15, August 22, August 29 and September 5. Payments will be made retroactively to eligible North Carolinians for the covered benefit weeks. DES has started issuing payments and should complete all payments by the end of September.
Web and/or phone issues with accessing the North Carolina Unemployment system
Over 2.2 million unemployment benefit claims have been filed since March 15. As a result, the DES has experienced an unprecedented call volume and delays in online claim processing due to required updates for federal programs. Although the DES has hired additional personnel, they strongly encourage new claimants to apply online. Effective August 24, weekly claims must be filed online.
Existing Claimants: Claimants receiving unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic must continue to certify every week to receive the additional FPUC $600/week benefit. The extra $600/week compensation is retroactive to the week beginning on March 29 and ends on July 31. FPUC payments are automatically added to the weekly benefit payment. The DES started making payments under this program on April 15.
Upon exhausting regular unemployment benefits, you must file a separate application to receive PEUC benefits. Once you’ve signed in to your account online, you will see a link to “Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.” If you are not eligible for PEUC, you will not see this link on your account.
Claimants that have exhausted both regular unemployment and PEUC benefits may be eligible for an additional 9.6 weeks of unemployment benefits. If eligible, claimants will see a link to “Apply for Extended Benefits” on their account.
Filing a Claim
Before filing an initial claim for unemployment benefits, you must first create an account through the DES here. You will need your social security number and a valid email address to set up your account. Once you have created a username and password, log on to complete your application.
To receive unemployment benefits, you must file a weekly certification. You have up to 14 days after the end of each week that you are unemployed to file this certification. File certifications every week, even if you are waiting to hear back about eligibility on your initial claim. Starting August 23, weekly certifications may only be completed online.
If you fail to certify timely, you will not be paid unemployment benefits for this week and will be required to reopen your claim.
If there is a problem with your claim that must be resolved before benefits can be paid or you have appealed a denial in benefits, you must still certify for and claim your benefits on time. If it is determined that you are eligible or if you win your appeal, you will be paid these benefits retroactively. However, if you win the appeal but have not claimed benefits, you will not be paid for these weeks.
If you need help filing your claim or with online services, the Customer Call Center is available at (888) 737-0259. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance can be reached at (866) 847-7209. Phone assistance is available from Monday-Friday 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM; Saturday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM; Sunday 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
To be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits in North Carolina, you must meet the following eligibility requirements during the pandemic:
- Unemployed due to no fault of your own
- Earned enough wages to be eligible for unemployment benefits
You can also apply by phone.
When applying your initial claim online, you will need the following information :
- Social Security Number
- Details about your most recent separation from employment including any vacation or severance pay that you received, are entitled to receive or will receive
- Any retirement payments, including the gross monthly amount and proof
- If you would like your unemployment payments directly deposited into your bank account, you will need to provide your bank routing number and account number. If you decide not to deposit your unemployment payments into your bank account directly, your payment will be loaded onto a DES-issued debit card
- Employment history for the past 24 months, including:
- Employers’ business names as they appeared on your paycheck
- Physical and payroll address for each employer
- Telephone number
- First and last date that you worked for each employer
- Rate of pay for each employer
- Reason you are no longer working for each employer
- Former federal employees who worked in a federal position during the last two years should submit SF-50 form, SF-8 form, pay stub(s), or a W-2. If you don’t have this information available when you are filing your initial claim, you can submit this later.
- Former military personnel should submit their DD214, Member 4 Copy. If you don’t have this when you file your initial claim, you will be able to present this copy later.
- Alien Registration number and the date your work authorization expires if you are not a US citizen
I filed my unemployment claim several weeks ago. Will I receive back pay once my claim is approved?
The DES has taken steps to improve its claim processing time. Yet, with the large volume of claims submitted each day, they continue to be delayed. The FPUC $600 per week additional benefit expired during the week of July 25. If you have filed an unemployment claim before that date and are still awaiting a response regarding your eligibility for unemployment, you will receive retroactive payments for the back weeks of FPUC even if the decision is not made until after the July 25 expiration date.
If you are not eligible for regular unemployment, you may be able to collect benefits under the PUA program. To determine eligibility, you must file a new unemployment insurance claim if you have not already done so. Once your eligibility is determined, you may complete the PUA application through a link in your online account. You should continue to file weekly certifications during this process. If you are eligible for PUA benefits for weeks that have already passed, you may recover back pay due to you if you submitted weekly certifications.
Can I still collect unemployment benefits if I’m returning to work at reduced hours?
Individuals who return to work at reduced hours may still be eligible to collect partial unemployment benefits. You must continue to file your weekly certification and report any of your wages in the week they were earned, not received. Wages earned may reduce your unemployment benefit.
What does it mean if my claim status shows as “Pending”?
When you file an initial unemployment claim, the last employer that you worked for has ten days to respond to the DES. During this time, your claim will show as “Pending.” If your employer responds within the ten days, your claim will be processed based on their response.
If they do not respond and the reason for your unemployment is due to COVID-19, the system will automatically move forward in the process. If you meet the eligibility requirements, unemployment benefits will be paid out, and your former employer is notified of the outcome. If they disagree with the assessment, your past employer could appeal the determination.
See additional FAQ from the North Carolina Department of Commerce about unemployment benefits.