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Disaster Unemployment Assistance: What You Need To Know

Updated : November 15th, 2021

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Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and the like are not strange sights in our country. It is also common for these disasters to cause irrevocable havoc on infrastructures, personal properties, and directly or indirectly on our source of income. Given that most US states are extremely vulnerable to one or more disasters, the Disaster Unemployment Assistance or DUA program offers helpful respite to many. 

What is Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)?

The Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program offers short-term benefits to individuals whose source of income has been lost or paused due to a major disaster. You should keep in mind that DUA is applicable to those who are not eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI). Your state’s UI agency will verify whether you are eligible for the UI benefits before considering you for DUA benefits. If you qualify for regular UI benefits, you will receive them instead of DUA.

You will receive DUA benefits if your loss of employment or self-employment is a direct result of the disaster. If you lost your job or source of income due to a course of events caused or deteriorated by the disaster, you wouldn’t be eligible for the DUA benefits. 

The Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program is overseen by the US Department of Labor in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). DUA benefits are dispersed when there is a disaster declaration for “individual assistance including DUA.” They are administered by the respective state UI agencies who act on behalf of the Federal government. 

What Qualifies as a Major Disaster?

Natural catastrophes such as hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, earthquakes, etc., or other disasters like natural gas leaks, explosions, etc., that result in a Presidential declaration are termed as a “Major Disaster.” A Presidential declaration is declared if it is determined that the communities and individuals affected by the disaster need government assistance. 

How is the DUA triggered?

If your state experiences a calamity or a hazard, the President will declare a major disaster in the respective state upon the request of the state Governor or Tribunal Chief/Governor. The declaration will demarcate the affected areas and authorize DUA. 

Later, public announcements are made about the availability of DUA, along with details of when and how the affected individuals can file for them.

Who Qualifies for Disaster Unemployment Assistance?

You’ll qualify for the DUA benefits if one of the following conditions applies to you as a direct result of the disaster – 

  • If you have been unemployed for a week following the disaster;
  • If you can’t reach your place of employment;
  • If you were about to start working but the job is no longer available, or you can’t reach the job;
  • If you become the major support or breadwinner after the head of your household dies as a direct result of the disaster;
  • If you cannot work due to an injury caused directly by the disaster.

What are the Eligibility Requirements of DUA?

After qualifying, you also need to meet the following eligibility requirements to claim DUA benefits – 

  • You are not eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI);
  • You are unemployed due to a direct result of the disaster;
  • You are able and available for work unless you are injured as a direct result of the disaster;
  • You have not refused any offers of employment for a suitable position.

How to Apply and Claim DUA Benefits?

As stated above, after the Presidential declaration of a major disaster, the concerned state will announce the availability of DUA benefits. If you are unemployed due to the disaster, you should contact your State Unemployment Insurance agency to file a claim. If you have been evacuated or moved to another state, you should contact the affected state for instructions on claim filing. You can also contact the UI agency of the state where you currently reside for claim filing assistance. 

Proof of Work

You will be required to provide proof of employment or self-employment to document work that was supposed to start on or after the occurrence of the disaster. If you do not have it, you will be given 21 calendar days from the time of the claim to fulfil this requirement. If you fail to submit the required documentation within the stipulated time, then your DUA claim will be denied. Furthermore, if you have already been paid the DUA benefits, they’ll be considered overpaid, and you’ll be required to repay them.

DUA Deadlines

The applications for the DUA should be filed within 30 days of the availability announcement. You should follow the instructions mentioned in the announcement and file for DUA based on the filing method used by your respective state, i.e., in-person, mail, online, telephone).

To continue availing of your DUA benefits, you must continue to file weekly or biweekly claims according to the instructions given by the state UI agency where you filed your DUA application.

What is the DUA Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA)?

The DUA weekly benefit amount (WBA) will be based on your gross wages. If you’re self-employed, the weekly benefit amount will be based on the income (net earnings) from self-employment. These benefits use the same formula used for calculating the UI benefits. If you qualify for less than 50 percent of the regular UI weekly benefit amount, the DUA weekly benefit amount will be increased to 50 percent of the state’s average weekly benefit amount. There are certain exceptions that apply to part-time workers.

How Long Do DUA Benefits Last?

The Disaster Assistance Period (DAP) generally lasts for 26 weeks. The term begins with the first week following the date of the major disaster and ends on the 26th week following the date after the declaration of the major disaster by the President. In some cases, the DUA benefits are extended based on the severity of the disaster and the need for government assistance. 

Can DUA Benefits Be Terminated?

You can be disqualified, or your DUA benefits can be terminated in case of any of the following instances – 

  • If you regain employment and your earnings exceed the weekly benefit amount allowed under the state’s law;
  • If you refuse to accept suitable employment opportunities without a valid reason;
  • If you do not accept a referral to suitable employment without good cause;
  • If you are not able or available to work (unless your inability is because of an injury caused directly by the disaster);
  • If you are not available for work (unless the unavailability is due to your preparations to resume self-employment);
  • If your unemployed status is no longer a direct result of the disaster.

How to Appeal DUA Denials?

If your DUA claim is denied, you can file an appeal. You must file the appeal within 60 days from the date of denial. 

Final Thoughts

The Disaster Unemployment Assistance program can offer temporary relief in case of disasters. If your state or area is experiencing any calamities or catastrophes, be on the lookout for DUA announcements. It can help you ride through hard times if you are not eligible for Unemployment Insurance.

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