Students: Don’t Miss Your Last Opportunity to Receive Unemployment Benefits

A photo to accompany a story about unemployment benefits for students Image Source: Getty/Boston Globe
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  • Some students can get unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program until March 14, 2021.
  • Students can qualify if they lost a job directly because of COVID-19, can’t participate in their work study, or have had a job or internship offer rescinded.
  • New verification requirements could result in millions of workers — including eligible students — having to pay back unemployment benefits.

Millions of college students work jobs on top of their class load.

The majority of these 11 million students work 20 or more hours per week, according to The Century Foundation, a progressive public policy that focuses on unemployment.

And yet this group has historically been ineligible to receive unemployment benefits — even if they lost a job that helped support them during their studies. Relief measures in response to the pandemic changed that. 

“The CARES Act provided a pathway to getting unemployment insurance that was particularly helpful for college students who traditionally might not qualify,” says Jen Mishory, a senior fellow focused on higher education and workforce policy at The Century Foundation. 

Before the CARES Act, students faced many barriers to getting unemployment benefits. These barriers were put in place by states, and include things like a required threshold of work history, or the disqualification of full-time students. 

Depending on the state, students might not earn enough to qualify for regular benefits, or their status as a student categorizes them as “unable and unavailable” to work if they are enrolled full-time in the eyes of the state, according to Mishory.  Part-time workers are disqualified from seeking unemployment benefits in about 20 states, whether they’re students or not. 

But students who otherwise might not qualify for help can now turn to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which originally started as part of the CARES Act in March 2020 and recently was extended through March 14, 2021. 

“Certainly some college students do and can access unemployment benefits, but a lot of students could not,” says Mishory. “So the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefit that started in the CARES Act was particularly suited to helping students who may have lost their jobs due to COVID and needed help.”

The Department of Labor specifies “states are permitted to provide Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to individuals who are self-employed, seeking part-time employment, or who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment compensation.”

This also means students working part time will only qualify through the extension of the PUA, which is set to end on March 14, 2021. Currently, students can get retroactive back pay from the end of December 2020. 

Pro Tip

Even if you didn’t qualify for a stimulus check, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. You can be listed as a dependent on a parent or guardian’s tax return and still receive benefits.

How to Qualify for PUA as a Student

PUA is available for workers who are unemployed directly because of COVID-19, and extends benefits specifically for gig workers, independent contractors,  college students, and others who normally wouldn’t qualify.

The program allows college students who have lost a job to access the additional $300 unemployment benefit boost on top of state payments they may be eligible for. 

Students may qualify if:

1. You Lost Your Job Due to COVID-19

If you were working a job while attending school and lost it specifically because of COVID-19, then you can apply and receive unemployment benefits. And the job doesn’t have to be a “career” job either: Delivering pizzas, babysitting, driving for Uber, or working in a restaurant all count. If your employer cut hours, the restaurant closed, or the number of people using Uber declined, you could file for unemployment.

2. If You Were Doing a Work Study Through Your University

If you were doing a work study through your school (working as a library assistant, giving tours, assisting in other university functions) but you can’t because of COVID-19 (your university is closed, classes online), then you can qualify for unemployment benefits. 

3. Your Job or Internship Offer Got Rescinded

If you accepted a paid job or internship offer, but your offer was rescinded specifically because of COVID-19, then you can qualify for unemployment benefits. 

You’ll most likely have to show proof of your offer and formal notice of rescission to qualify. 

How to Apply for PUA as a Student

You’ll need to apply for unemployment benefits through your state’s unemployment program. You can find information on how to do this through your state’s Department of Labor website. 

Students are also subject to the increased documentation requirements for PUA that were established in the latest stimulus law. Students need to submit documentation proving their employment status and identification to qualify. 

For proof of prior employment, you may need to provide: paycheck stubs, earnings and leave statements showing the employer’s name and address, and W-2 forms. 

If you were self-employed, you may need to provide state or federal employer identification numbers, business licenses, tax returns, business receipts, signed affidavits from others verifying the individual’s self employment.

For students who had job offers rescinded, you may need to provide your formal offer letter and notice of rescission. 

The exact requirements vary by state. 

Gaps in Coverage for Students

While the PUA extends unemployment benefits to more students, there are still gaps in coverage. 

Students who don’t qualify for unemployment benefits include:

1. Students Who Leave School Unemployed

The program offers coverage for students who had a job offer that was rescinded due to COVID-19, but it doesn’t offer coverage for students who graduate and are looking for work for the first time.

2. Students Who Lost Jobs Not Directly From COVID-19

You must have lost your job as a direct result of COVID-19. 

“Many have lost jobs as a result of the more-vague economic downturn,” says Mishory. “These students would also not qualify for unemployment benefits.”