Financial Relief for Survivors of Disaster

During times of natural disasters, there are several forms of relief often offered to American workers, says Tory Johnson, chief executive officer of Women For Hire.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance provides unemployment insurance to individuals whose employment has been lost or interrupted as a direct result of a major disaster. Funding is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and it is administered through the affected states' departments of labor.

There are two important distinctions between this type of unemployment assistance and traditional unemployment benefits. In the case of a declared natural disaster, expanded conditions apply making two groups of workers eligible who ordinarily wouldn't qualify for such benefits:

Self-employed people

Part-time workers

DUA provides up to 26 weeks of benefits. The amount of the weekly benefit varies by the state. For example, Alabama's weekly maximum benefit is currently $220 per week and Louisiana's weekly maximum benefit is now $258 per week.

Typically, an eligible worker has up to 30 days to apply from the time a county is declared a disaster area. Local officials communicate those dates and deadlines through a variety of channels once their procedures are in place. Since communication is virtually shut down in many cities and counties, there is often a brief delay in setting up and relaying such information.

In most cases, there is no need to apply in person as states are setting up toll-free numbers to facilitate filing. (In Alabama, the number is 866-234-5382. Louisiana and Mississippi will be setting up and disseminating numbers shortly.) Applicants will need to provide some basic information, such as their employer, earnings/wages, contact information, Social Security number and proof of identity. In many cases, qualified workers are able to set up electronic payment options to avoid the challenges associated with mailing paper checks, especially to residents who've been displaced.

If you work in an affected area, contact your employer, if possible.

Check in to let your employer know of your safety and whereabouts. Many employers in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi are operating hotlines to provide the latest information and assistance to their employees.

Employees Can Prepare in Advance

When severe storm warnings are in effect, Americans naturally focus on securing their homes and planning for their safety. In addition to those important steps, there are a few simple tactics that you can also take regarding your employment:

Ask for a contact number for your employer so you'll be able to notify them of your safety and whereabouts, and you'll be able to access the latest information on the company's activity.

A new survey by the American Payroll Association found that more than 70 percent of workers would find it difficult to meet their financial obligations if their paycheck was delayed a week. Enroll in advance in direct deposit, since this electronic payment method typically results in fewer disruptions and delays in receiving your funds.

Take time well in advance of a disaster to learn about your employer's benefits and contingency plans in the event of such an occurrence. You should ask: What type of mandatory insurance coverage or optional relief is provided for employees? What are the eligibility requirements? How will employees be notified?

For more advice from Tory Johnson on protecting your job, Click Here.