Here's how an app is making it easier for Americans to file for unemployment

Eddie Rodriguez (R) and other City of Hialeah employees hand out unemployment applications to people in their vehicles in front of the John F. Kennedy Library on April 08, 2020 in Hialeah, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

When Los Angeles County schools closed last month in an effort to halt the spread of conroavirus, Matthew Lee was among those laid off. 

Lee, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara last June, worked about 20 hours a week as a substitute teacher while completing online classes needed for a teaching degree. He currently lives with his parents, and he used his teaching income to cover his portion of the rent and his car payments. So with bills coming due, Lee checked out the unemployment portal offered through California's Employment Development Department. But he didn't get very far.

"I did actually check out the unemployment website for EDD California, but it was pretty overwhelming to have to go through that. It gave me flashbacks of the DMV website — it was too much," Lee says, so he simply put off filing. 

That is, until he saw a push notification from the DoNotPay app. "It was awesome that they reminded me to [file for unemployment], and that I was able to do it so quickly," he says. Lee, who has been a subscriber to the legal robo service app for about a year, was one of the early beta testers for DoNotPay's newest feature: a chatbot that will help you complete and submit unemployment claims. 

That help couldn't come at a better time. With roughly 22 million Americans filing for unemployment over the past three weeks, many states have struggled to keep up with the overwhelming number of people seeking support.

The landing page for DoNotPay's new tool to help users file for unemployment. 

How it works

DoNotPay ($3 per month subscription; available through a website and iPhone app) already uses chatbots to provide users with a range of services, including disputing parking tickets, getting reimbursed by companies and skipping the line for customer service. But since the coronavirus pandemic has ramped up, the DoNotPay team has been working to perfect a simple bot that will deal with the unemployment process. 

Currently, DoNotPay's chatbot starts off by asking users a series of questions in plain English about their situation to gather the information required to apply for their state unemployment insurance. The site then fills out the application and submits the claim during off-peak hours when state unemployment websites are live, or by mail or fax.

A sample conversation with DoNotPay's chatbot that asks users questions to get all the information required to file for unemployment.

"We've helped people deal with government paperwork and corporate bureaucracy for the past few years," CEO Joshua Browder tells CNBC Make It. But getting help submitting unemployment has been the most requested feature by users since the start of the layoffs, he says, adding that users have been complaining of long wait times on the phone and limited online access. 

Simply filing at the right time can be problematic for many. In some states, whether you call or go online, you can only start an application during regular business hours. Hawaii, for example, restricts online applications to between the hours of 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. HST, Monday through Friday, and between 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. HST on weekends and holidays.

Starting Tuesday, April 14, consumers can use DoNotPay to file for unemployment in all 50 states. Each state has a different filing system, some users — including those in New York and New Jersey, for example — will still have to speak with their state unemployment office before the claim can be processed. But you won't have to wait on hold to get that appointment. DoNotPay also offers a "skip waiting on hold" function where a bot calls, navigates the teleprompts, waits on hold and then forwards the call to you when a representative is available, Browder says. 

To file through DoNotPay, you'll need documentation such as a pay stub that verifies your income and work status.  You'll also typically need to have the following details on hand: 

  • Social Security number 
  • Home address and mailing address (if different)
  • Telephone number
  • Email address
  • Your bank name, address, account number and routing number for direct deposit
  • Employer's name, address and phone number
  • First and last day worked with employer
  • Reason for leaving
  • Pension or severance package information (if applicable)

Lee says unlike California's unemployment site, DoNotPay's process was "super simple," adding that once he gathered his documents, it only took about 10 to 15 minutes to submit his claim. "This is helping me make my car payment and rent this month."  

In addition to helping with the initial unemployment filing process, DoNotPay says it automatically files a continuing claim so that users don't have to worry about re-filing. And while there is a $3 monthly subscription fee, Browder tells CNBC Make It that users can request a waiver if they're struggling financially and cannot pay the fee.

Check out: The best credit cards of 2020 could earn you over $1,000 in 5 years

Don't miss: If you lose your job due to the coronavirus pandemic, here's how to navigate filing for unemployment

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