CORONAVIRUS

You've lost your job - now what? Experts offer tips as coronavirus leads to unemployment

Owner Jennifer Lawrence sits at her desk at Corridor HR Solutions LLC in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (The Gaz
Owner Jennifer Lawrence sits at her desk at Corridor HR Solutions LLC in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — File your claim. Don’t panic. Take the high road.

That’s the advice employment experts are offering the thousands of Iowans who now find themselves unemployed as many employers are shutting their doors, scaling back work and sending employees home in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. And while unemployment can be stressful and unsettling, it’s often temporary and manageable, experts said.

“We always tell people during a time of layoff or if you’ve been removed from the payroll, expect it to be temporary,” said Jennifer Lawrence, owner of Corridor HR Solutions in Hiawatha. “Maintain some perspective ... Unemployment is reversible. It can be a very unsettling time. It’s also a great time for personal growth and opportunity.”

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Here are some frequently asked questions for jobless workers filing for unemployment insurance claims, as well as programs available for employers, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Lawrence, whose company provides career transition support to employees, said the first piece of advice she gives to recently unemployed people is to not panic and to “take the high road.”

“It’s really easy to panic and it’s really easy to be angry,” Lawrence said. “Stay on the high road. Remember people are going to be references for you, referrals for you. It’s a small community.”

Ryan West, deputy director for Iowa Workforce Development, said the first thing people should do when they lose their jobs is go to iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov and make their initial unemployment insurance claim. Anyone who hasn’t made an unemployment claim in the last 12 months will need to make an initial claim.

People can also call the customer service hotline at 866-239-0843, but West said they are pushing more people to the website, if possible.

“We’ve got a lot of calls and we want to keep the system moving quickly,” he said.

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Once the claim has been submitted, claimants will be sent a monetary statement informing them what unemployment insurance benefits they’re qualified for. Those benefits are based on the last 18 months of earnings, West said. Iowa Workforce Developments hopes to have everyone impacted by COVID-19 receiving their benefits within 10-14 business days.

Following the initial claim, claimants should file their weekly claim each Sunday to indicate whether they did or didn’t work that week, West said.

It’s an easy process and one that should be started immediately after losing employment, West said.

“If you’re off today, file your claim,” he said. “Don’t wait a week, don’t wait two days, because that gets the clock ticking for you.”

Kristopher Hopkins, risk adviser with North Risk Partners, said people have three options when it comes to continuing health care coverage. They have 60 days to accept COBRA or Iowa Continuation from their employer and continue receiving the benefits offered by their previous employer.

“You can continue your coverage, you’ll just be paying 100 percent of their premiums,” he said.

Option two, if COBRA premiums are too expensive, is to shop for an individual health care plan at healthcare.gov, Hopkins said. Those who are recently losing health care coverage have access to a special enrollment event.

Finally, someone can pursue a short-term major medical care plan. However, those plans are not Affordable Care Act compliant, Hopkins said.

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“That’s better than not having anything at all, if those first two options are too expensive,” Hopkins said.

Michele Williams, assistant professor management and entrepreneurship in the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, said knowing where your money is going is “critical” during a crisis.

“One of the best habits people can implement right now is tracking their spending,” Williams said. “Then, sorting their expenses into essential and non-essential buckets. Start to cut back on those non-essential expenses, as well as shopping more economically will help people gain a sense of control as they found out about the resources that will be made available by organizations and our state and federal government.”

Williams also recommended speaking with your bank and an investment professional to get a better understanding of your current finances and retirement savings.

Many religious organizations and universities — including the University of Iowa — have emergency funds to help students in need. Williams noted that college students have many worries during this time of crisis, especially related to the loss of summer internships or employment after college, but she said students have the technical skills to help their families and other connect virtually.

“This role is not only valuable for their communities, but also the skills gained are likely to be seen by future employers as valuable ones that will be in demand,” she said.

Lawrence said those seeking jobs shouldn’t make assumptions about who is and isn’t hiring and what jobs are available. Instead, she suggests doing some research and looking at the industries that could be busier during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Also, rather than “spray and pray” — that is, blasting your resume out to anyone and everyone — Lawrence said job seekers should think about what motivates them and interests them. They should treat job searching like sales and marketing.

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“You’re selling and marketing yourself, so know what you’re selling,” she said.

Lawrence also stressed the importance of networking. If you’re interested in a particular employer, try to connect with someone already working there as employers are influenced by recommendations from existing employees. While networking can be a little more difficult during a period of isolation, Lawrence suggested reaching out through LinkedIn, ask for advice and offer to set up a meeting or phone call.

“It might be a virtual cup of coffee,” Lawrence said.

Williams said job seekers can also use a period of unemployment to develop new skills that will be in demand in a workforce that is “structured more virtually.”

“Developing the skills that you need to connect and manage virtually will be valuable,” she said. “Volunteering to gain new skills and experience is an important way people move into new career opportunities.”

Finally, jobs don’t just provide incomes and benefits, they’re also a source of structure, purpose and social connection. Lawrence said those who have made job searching their full-time job should remember they need structure and social connection, as well.

“Don’t overlook those,” she said. “Those are really important.”

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

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