Can I Collect Unemployment If I Lost My Job Due to Natural Disaster?

Employees who are unable to work due to natural disaster can get federal assistance.

If you are out of work due to a natural disaster—such as Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, Hurricane Irma in Florida, or the wildfires in Northern California—you may be eligible for a special type of unemployment called Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). The President has the authority to declare these benefits available where a major natural disaster has resulted in lost jobs or reduced hours.

If you are already collecting state unemployment benefits when disaster strikes, you don’t need to worry about the DUA program; you can simply keep looking for work and filing weekly claims for benefits. Similarly, if you lose your job for reasons unrelated to the disaster—for instance, because you were about to be laid off when the disaster hit or because you had quit your job to relocate with your military spouse—you can apply for regular unemployment benefits. (To learn more, see our state-specific articles on collecting unemployment.)

Is Disaster Unemployment Assistance Available?

The DUA program is not automatic. Your state’s governor must ask the President to declare a major disaster, to authorize the payment of DUA, and to specify the areas where benefits will be available. This process typically happens quickly after a natural disaster. In the recent California wildfires, for example, DUA benefits were made available just over a week after the fires started. To find out whether DUA is available in your area, check your state’s unemployment department website.

Who Is Eligible for DUA Benefits?

You may collect DUA benefits if:

  • you are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits in your state
  • you lived or worked in the disaster zone, and
  • you are unable to work as a direct result of the disaster.

For example, you may be eligible for DUA if, because of the disaster:

  • You no longer have a workplace or a job. If your workplace was destroyed in an earthquake or your work facility was burned down, you will be eligible.
  • You can’t get to work. If roads are closed due to flooding, for example, you will qualify for DUA.
  • You can’t work because your workplace was damaged. If your workplace has no electricity or in uninhabitable due to flooding and mold, you will be eligible.
  • You can’t work due to an injury you suffered in the disaster. If you are hospitalized for burns and smoke inhalation, for example, you will qualify for benefits. (In a handful of states, including California, temporary disability benefits are available to workers in these situations instead.)

Unlike regular unemployment benefits, which are typically available only to employees, DUA is also available to the self-employed. You can also collect DUA benefits if you have to enter the workforce because your family’s regular breadwinner died as a result of the natural disaster.

Benefit Amounts and Duration

Like regular unemployment benefits, the amount you’ll receive from the DUA program is based on your earnings. For the DUA program, your state’s unemployment department will look at your most recent complete tax year before you lost your job. Your state’s laws will determine the maximum amount you can receive. The minimum amount you can receive is half of your state’s average unemployment benefit amount.

DUA is available for 26 weeks after the President declares a disaster in your area. This period is the same in every state, unlike regular unemployment benefits, which vary in duration depending on state law.

How to Apply for DUA and More

To find out how to get DUA benefits, check the website of your state’s unemployment department. On the home page, look for a link to disaster unemployment assistance. (Here are links to the California DUA page, Texas DUA page, and Florida DUA page, for example.) If your area has set up one-stop assistance centers for disaster victims, you should be able to find information there as well.

You undoubtedly have many pressing daily needs to attend to following a disaster, and applying for government help may not be high on your priority list. But don’t forget to claim your DUA benefits. The deadline for filing depends on when the President declared the disaster and when your county was included in the disaster area. Generally, the initial deadline is 30 days from the date disaster was declared, but these deadlines can be extended (and often are). Your state’s unemployment agency can tell you when you must apply.

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