While unemployment has been inching downward in recent weeks, more than 23 million American workers are still currently receiving some form of government jobless benefits, and the official unemployment rate stands at 7.9% as of the end of September. Last week, over a million Americans filed an initial application for unemployment due to a new job loss or reduced hours.
But simply filing an unemployment claim doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll receive benefits. And even once you’ve gotten approved for unemployment, there are certain things you may need to do to keep it. It’s important to check the right boxes and do the required follow-up work to get the money that can help make ends meet, so follow these 10 steps to avoid any pitfalls.
1. Determine if you qualify
In order to be eligible for unemployment benefits, you generally must have been laid off from your job, furloughed, had your hours reduced or been required to quarantine due to the coronavirus. You’re not eligible if you quit or were fired for cause — it has to be a lack of work that was out of your own control.
If you lost your job for another reason and file for unemployment anyway, your previous employer can challenge your claim, and you might be denied for benefits.
You also must have earned a minimum amount of wages as an employee to qualify for regular unemployment. However, the federal CARES Act passed in March expanded eligibility to gig workers, independent contractors and self-employed people. This part of the program is called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, but the basics are the same as regular unemployment insurance.
So if you were a ride-share driver but now can’t find work because everyone is staying at home, you can file a claim. However, because this is a brand-new expansion of unemployment eligibility, many states originally struggled to implement it. The situation has improved in recent months, but you should still be prepared for delays.
2. Find info from your previous job or independent gigs
When you file, you’ll need to be ready to submit not only your own basic information — such as name, address, phone number, Social Security number and so on — but also where you were employed, your dates of employment and earnings info. If you’ve had more than one job in recent years, you’ll need the info for all of them.
“Making an accurate accounting of all income for every month for the last 18 months is important,” says Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. “That will ensure that claimants can get the maximum benefit.”
If you’re a gig worker or independent contractor, you’ll need to prove your previous income to be eligible for the PUA program. That could be tricky if you’ve had irregular earnings.
“Some states base benefits on the highest quarter of income, which may be lost when a worker only has a 1099 for the whole year for proof of income,” explains Evermore. “Workers should come prepared with all of the ways that they know they have been paid to establish for themselves a good high quarter of earnings.”
3. File your claim online
While there are federal guidelines that govern unemployment eligibility, unemployment benefits are administered and paid out by your state. As a result, you’ll file for unemployment with one of 50 state agencies, not the federal government.
When you file for unemployment, it’s called filing a claim. To file an unemployment claim, you’ll need to call your state’s unemployment office, visit it in person or submit a claim online. That last option is almost certainly your best bet, if possible.
The US Department of Labor sponsors a website with a list of the online filing options for every state. To start filing a claim, choose your state from the drop-down menu and look for the link under the section titled “To file a UI claim online.”
4. File during odd hours or on your assigned day
Even with unemployment dropping in recent months, states are still inundated with claims, so even when you’re filing online, don’t be surprised if you encounter a problem or delay during at least one point in the process. You might try applying either early or late in the day — or even in the middle of the night if you’re awake — in order to get your claim through the system.
Some states are also asking certain groups to apply on certain days, such as Hawaii, which is requesting that people whose last names start with A through G file on Mondays, H through O on Tuesdays and P through Z on Wednesdays. You’ll need to check with your state to find out its specific rules.
That being said, if you’ve lost your job, make it a priority to file as quickly as you can, as waiting delays getting your claim approved. Unfortunately, there aren’t many tricks to getting through other than being persistent.
5. Budget for less than your old paycheck
Not only does each state have its own unemployment rules, each state also pays out a different amount for unemployment.
In many states, you’ll get roughly half of what you earned at your job each week for up to 26 weeks. But other states have a different formula that’s less generous, so the overall average replacement rate is closer to 40%. And in some states, the benefits period can be as short as 12 weeks.
But as part of the same CARES Act that expanded eligibility, Congress also added an additional 13 weeks of unemployment funding. So right now, depending on your state, you might be eligible for up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits.
Also, each state has a cap, or maximum amount, you can get, and that maximum amount varies significantly depending on where you live. According to figures provided by Evermore, the lowest is $235 in Mississippi, and the highest is in Massachusetts at $1,192, including additional dependent allowances.
So if you were lucky enough to have a well-paying job, you’ll probably get a lot less than half of your previous salary each week from your unemployment claim.
6. Don’t count on extra help from the federal government
As part of the CARES Act, Congress originally provided an extra $600 per week that was added on top of state unemployment benefits. However, this $600 federal “add-on” expired at the end of July, and Congress and the White House haven’t been able to agree on an extension.
While negotiations are still ongoing for a second stimulus plan, even if one finally passes, there are no guarantees that it’ll include another federal addition to unemployment. So when you’re budgeting your expenses, plan on only having access to what your state provides. Then if a federal addition is eventually passed into law, it’ll be icing on the cake.
7. Pay income tax on your unemployment benefits
Do you have to pay taxes on your unemployment benefits? In a word, yes, at least when it comes to your federal income tax return. “Unemployment compensation is subject to income taxes but is not subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes,” says Kathy Pickering, H&R Block’s chief tax officer.
So unlike the $1,200 stimulus payment that many people received over the spring and summer, the federal government will tax your unemployment benefits. And it’s not just federal taxes, either: Thirty-four states fully tax unemployment benefits, and two states partially tax unemployment benefits, according to Pickering.
You’ll need to include any unemployment payments you received in 2020 on your income tax return when you file it by April 2021. If you’re concerned about owing tax on that money, you can elect to pay it as you go so you don’t get hit with a bill next year.
“Many people find it easier to have taxes withheld from unemployment rather than make estimated tax payments,” explains Pickering. “Having taxes withheld or making estimated tax payments are both ways you can minimize the risk of an unexpected balance due and potential penalties.”
8. Do you need to look for work?
If you’ve filed your claim, gotten it approved and start receiving unemployment benefits, there are additional rules you need to be aware of to make sure you don’t lose your benefits before you get a new job.
Most states require people who are receiving unemployment benefits be not only willing to work but actively looking for work. That requirement was waived by essentially every state at the start of the pandemic, but a number of them have now reimposed it.
However, as we’ve noted many times, every state is different, and also the definitions of “actively looking for work” vary from state to state. So if you aren’t sure if your state requires you to be currently looking for work, or what you need to do to prove that you’re looking for work, double-check its unemployment website to find out.
9. Reapply for the federal extension if necessary
While the additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits being provided under the CARES Act will kick in automatically in some states, other states require that you apply separately for the extension. You’ll need to read the notices your state sends you to determine if you need to complete an additional application, or your payments could end up being interrupted.
10. Talk to your employer if you’re called back to work
Finally, what if your company has remained closed but finally reopens and calls you back to work? That means you have a current offer of employment and are no longer eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
Exceptions are available if you’ve been told by a health provider to quarantine, or if you’re caring for children while schools are closed. But remote schooling generally doesn’t count as a school being “closed” for unemployment purposes, though some child caregivers might be eligible for PUA or family leave benefits.
Being called back to work may be a difficult situation if you aren’t comfortable returning to work right now. Your best bet may be to discuss the situation with your boss to see if there are any accommodations that can be made, but don’t count on continuing to collect unemployment if your work returns.
Take advantage of unemployment if you’re eligible
No one likes losing a job, but don’t think of unemployment insurance as a crutch or something to be embarrassed about. The unemployment insurance system exists as a backstop for people to use when they need it, and it’s needed by people now more than ever.
So if you’ve lost your job or aren’t working as many hours as before, get an unemployment claim filed as quickly as you can and get a temporary income stream flowing back into your household.
Having money issues due to the coronavirus pandemic? Read CNN Underscored’s previous stories in this series:
All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.
Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.
The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.
The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.
In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.
Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.
It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.
Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.
Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.
Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.
The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”
At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.
On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.
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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year
From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.
Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.
From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.
“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.
Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.
The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.
Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.
Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.
Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.
The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.
Calls for urgent reduction of violence
Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.
Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.
“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.
There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.
1/4 I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.
But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.
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