When Sandy swept through the East Coast, it took more than homes and public property. The estimated $50 billion in damage left thousands out of work and even more wondering if their company will survive in the post-Sandy local economy. If you're suddenly jobless, either temporarily or permanently as a result of the storm, there is relief available. Here's a guide for the newly unemployed.
"If you missed work due to (Superstorm) Sandy, you can file a claim to see if you are payable for unemployment," says Stan Kuligowski, a program and services coordinator for the Connecticut Department of Labor's Unemployment Insurance Operations Unit. "If you were out of work for less than a full week, you may be payable for partial benefits."
There are two main programs designed to help natural disaster victims. Unemployment insurance is available by state-regulated programs that provide a percentage of the employee's former salary usually for up to 26 weeks. Disaster unemployment assistance, or DUA, is for those who don't qualify for unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers. DUA benefits are only available in places declared major disaster areas by the president and usually only available for up to 27 weeks after the event.
For Sandy, those areas include certain counties in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Virginia, West Virginia, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Only workers who cannot perform their job due to injury or damage to the workplace, cannot get to their place of employment or are seeking work because the head of their household has died as a result of the disaster are eligible for DUA benefits.
"We're directing everybody to first file for regular unemployment insurance," says Brian T. Murray, director of communications and marketing for the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. When filling out their application, workers should state that the storm is the reason for unemployment. "That'll automatically get any rejected unemployment insurance reviewed for a disaster unemployment assistance plan," he says. Information on both programs is available through your state employment office.
The Small Business Association offers low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters and those who run their own businesses and nonprofits. Help is also available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The agency announced Nov. 5 that it will provide more than $210 million in housing and other disaster-related needs to residents and business owners in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Those in affected states can find out what they're eligible for by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362) or heading to DisasterAssistance.gov.
Finding a replacement job
Workers may be able to find stopgap jobs doing storm cleanup. Private companies may hire extra hands for landscaping and area rehabilitation projects. Several states, including New York and New Jersey, have been given additional national emergency grants to provide temporary jobs to those who can aid in recovery efforts. Information on those positions will be available through your state's department of labor or employment assistance office, but Murray says to be patient.
"It will take at least a week for many of these counties and these local governments to identify the projects that we hope to match people to," he says.
In the meantime, workers can take advantage of state job assistance programs that are available year-round, including job search boards, training programs and skills workshops, Murray says. The important thing is to act fast, says Dennis Grady, a partner with the Career Advisory Group in Hoboken, N.J.
"If someone has lost a job because of the hurricane, it's actually very timely. It's relevant," he says. "A lot of companies around here that have felt the pain; there's a certain benevolence that is existing right now where people are going to be pretty quick to want to talk to you. They're not going to turn down a phone call from you if that's your situation."
Update your resume
In addition to applying for unemployment and recovery assistance, job candidates need to update their resumes quickly and make sure it reflects that they are unemployed due to external weather circumstances rather than job performance issues. They should also highlight any above-and-beyond duties they accomplished for their former company during the storm, such as helping to get certain systems up and running again in the storm aftermath.
"Those are some specific ways that people can reflect their performance, their ability to perform under pressure, their ability to perform in a disaster scenario," says Grady.
Grady also advises job hunters to join with others who are unemployed in their area and become part of the recovery effort.
"Get out there and get active. Get involved in those groups, help people out," he says. "If you help somebody, they're going to want to help you back."
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