If you lose your job or self-employment income directly due to a hurricane, then you might be eligible to collect 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 natural disasters, such as Hurricane Irene that’s forecasted to ravage the East Coast at this writing. For DUA to become available in the declared areas, the governors of the damaged states must request the funds from the federal government.
DUA is for workers who have lost their jobs directly due to a natural disaster, but are not eligible for standard state unemployment benefits (or benefit extensions). If you become eligible for standard benefits after losing your job to a hurricane, such as Irene, then you’d collect those instead of DUA.
If you’re a self-employed individual who has lost income to a hurricane, 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 disaster, as well as for those who couldn’t start the new jobs they had landed because their future workplaces were damaged.
You must file a claim to determine your 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 online facilities for filing claims over the Internet.
Don’t delay for long in filing your claim for DUA, as the window is typically open for only 30 days after it becomes available. However, if hurricane damage is severe or local unemployment offices or One-Stops are closed due to damage, then states typically extend the deadline.
It takes time to determine whether or not DUA is required after a disaster and then distribute the funds if it is. Subsequently, DUA is not likely to be immediately available after a hurricane strikes.
To determine whether or not DUA might become available, first check the disaster declarations at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to see if the president has declared a major disaster in your area. If so, contact the state unemployment office or keep an eye on its Web site for information about DUA. Again, the governor of your state must request the funds for it to become available.
Beware! Con artists often attempt to scam disaster 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.
To apply for other disaster assistance due to a hurricane, see Apply for Assistance at FEMA or call (800) 621-3362. If you have speech or hearing impairments, then you may instead call (800) 462-7585 through your TTY device.
If you’re low on cash and need legal assistance as a victim of a hurricane disaster or a related scam, some local lawyers volunteer to help 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.