Unemployment claims are taking some states weeks to process. Here’s what to know if you are stuck waiting for approval

Already 26.5 million initial unemployment insurance claims have been processed. But millions of claims are still waiting approval as states struggle with a massive backlog.

The backlog is so large that Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear says his state should finish reviewing unemployment insurance claims submitted in March this week—almost a full month after those applicants applied. “We are seeing jobless numbers like never before … but only a small percentage are getting processed right away,” says Dan White, head of fiscal policy research at Moody’s Analytics.

As unemployment insurance (UI) applicants wait for their claims to be approved, here’s what to keep in mind.

My unemployment claim is delayed. Will I get back-paid?

Many jobless Americans are waiting weeks to get approval for their unemployment benefits. But once they’re approved, their regular unemployment benefits as well as their additional $600 federal benefit (see below) are retroactive to when their initial claim is eligible—not when it is approved. That means some out-of-work Americans could be in line for some significant retroactive checks.

Can states run out of unemployment funds?

During the good economic times, states are suppose to build up their unemployment trust reserves. But before this massive wave of jobless claims, 22 states did not have the recommended reserves, according to a Department of Labor report published in February.

States who had the recommended reserves are eligible for interest-free federal government loans to cover unemployment benefits. States that didn’t have the recommended reserves, like New York and California, might need to make a request to the federal government to expand interest free borrowing and keep benefits flowing.

How do the additional weekly $600 unemployment benefits work?

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill passed in March provided an additional $600 weekly in unemployment insurance benefits to everyone who qualifies for their state’s program. The additional weekly $600 will only continue through the week of July 31.

Once a state approves an applicant’s unemployment claim, that person will automatically get the additional weekly federal money. However, some states like Hawaii have yet to start distributing the additional $600.

The stimulus bill also expanded who is eligible for unemployment benefits. That includes jobless part-timers, self-employed workers, freelancers and independent contractors.

Can my unemployment benefits be greater than my income?

The additional weekly $600 in unemployment benefits is for anyone that qualifies for UI regardless of their income-level. That works out to $15 per hour on a 40-hour workweek.

When considering that the money is on top of state benefits, most UI recipients who earned under $20 per hour at their jobs, will actually make more on unemployment.

What if my claim gets denied?

Chip Cruze had to shut down his softball training facility in Nashville when it was deemed non-essential in late March. After the CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits to self-employed folks like himself, he applied for UI on March 28.

The Tennessee UI system told him he was ‘monetarily ineligible’ but he’s since reapplied. A denial does not guarantee you won’t eventually get UI benefits. Cruze is preaching patience, and says he understand the state and federal systems are backlogged. The one thing he says he wishes there was more of from his state’s program? Communication during the process.

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—WATCH: Why the banks were ready for the financial impact of coronavirus

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