April 30, 2020 / 5:20 PM / 25 days ago

Your unemployment questions, answered

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. jobless claims have exceeded 30 million since the coronavirus outbreak hit the country, wiping out a decade of job gains and sending many Americans scrambling to find work and cash in on government aid.

FILE PHOTO: A person walks by the entrance of the New York State Department of Labor offices, which closed to the public due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

As part of our weekly #AskReuters Twitter chat series, Reuters invited a group of financial experts to share their best tips for navigating unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below are edited highlights.

What advice do you have for people who are still having a hard time tapping unemployment benefits?

“This is an unprecedented situation, and millions of Americans are unjustly in the same boat. Remember that benefits are backdated, so if approved, you’ll get back unemployment from the date you applied. In the meantime, can you ask for forbearance in credit card payments, car notes, or your mortgage or rent? Can you use your stimulus check, or, if necessary, emergency savings or low-interest credit cards to bridge the gap?”

— Janet Alvarez, executive editor of Wise Bread

What are the best resources available to laid-off workers?

“The best resources are the ones you ask for. Many people get overwhelmed and stuck, and feel bad about asking for help. Right now, get on the phone with everyone you owe and ask what help is available.”

— Beth Pinsker, Reuters journalist and a certified financial planner

What tips do you have for anyone who is having trouble paying their bills (mortgage, rent, student loans, auto and credit, etc.) right now?

“If possible, work with creditors directly. Landlords are aware that a tenant that is paying partial rent is better than no tenant at all. Negotiate as best you can, we’re all in the same boat.”

—Patrick Gourley, assistant professor of economics at University of New Haven

How can laid-off workers make the best use of their time in terms of training and upskilling? Is there anything else they should be doing?

“This can be your moment to refine, expand, or even discover talents and skills. Perhaps an online class (many are free), guidance from a business coach, jumping back into that passion you put on hold or using this time to rest and recharge.”

— Jody Thompson, co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment

Where should unemployed workers turn for healthcare coverage? Do you advise using COBRA or can they get a better deal elsewhere?

“You’ll likely have better deals than COBRA at NY State of Health. Sign up for Medicaid, Essential Plan, Qualified Health Plans depending on income and other factors.”

— The Legal Aid Society (New York)

What financial moves should employees who have been furloughed or experienced salary cuts in recent weeks make now?

“Work sharing is a win-win for employers and employees – employers get to retain trained workers and workers can work and get unemployment insurance benefits, plus the $600. Ask your boss about work sharing as an alternative to layoffs.”

— Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project

What benefits are available to contractors or gig-economy workers who have seen their salaries disappear?

“Contractors, check with your state to see if they’ve extended benefits. States like Oregon and others have expanded benefits to include contractors and gig workers. California also approved contractors to receive benefits through pandemic unemployment assistance.”

— Raymond Lee, founder and chief executive of Careerminds

Any guidance on looking for a job?

“Lean on your network. The older you get, the more clear it is that the old saying is true - ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ Work your network as much as you can. Most people are more than willing to help people they like.”

— Matthew Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree

What are you optimistic about right now?

“Every recession ends. Since 1980, the economy has spent 12% of the time in recession, growing 88% of the time. The 1918 pandemic flu recession lasted just seven months, the second shortest recession since 1854.”

— Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree

Compiled by Beatrix Lockwood; Editing by Lauren Young and Jonathan Oatis

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