Support for Autistic Adults Dealing with COVID-19 Employment ChangesBy Brigid Rankowski
Brigid Rankowski is a writer, artist and advocate based in Portland, Maine. Brigid is a member of state and national disability organizations. They work to address intersectional topics in the disability community and promote accessibility for all.
Like many Americans, you may find yourself out of work or facing reduced work opportunities due to health and safety concerns around COVID-19. There are many resources available to address financial hardships and also supports to help people with autism navigate the uncertainty around employment.
Below you will find some resources and tips to help you. Keep in mind this is an unprecedented situation for companies, government agencies and communities. There may be hiccups as communities work to develop solutions.
Apply for unemployment
Congress recently passed a bill to expand unemployment benefits for those affected by COVID-19. If you qualify, please take action to ensure you get income you will need while out of work.
If you have lost your job, had your hours severely reduced or been placed on furlough due to COVID-19, you may be eligible for unemployment. Furlough is a term for those people who are not let go but have had their hours reduced to zero.
Many states require that you meet a minimum “base period” of employment, which means how many weeks or months you were working before you became unemployed. Unemployment benefits may also be available for part-time workers depending on your state. You should apply for unemployment pay in the state where you worked, even if you are now living in another state.
You can typically file for unemployment benefits via phone, mail or electronically.
To find your state’s unemployment program, visit usa.gov/unemployment or click on this map to find your state’s unemployment system. To keep your private information secure, make sure that any website you visit to file for unemployment ends in .gov.
Gather essential paperwork
You’ll need a few different documents to apply for unemployment and other assistance programs. Compiling all this information into one place can help significantly reduce the stress of the process. Things to gather include:
- recent paystubs or wage records such as a W-2 form
- your social security card or another document with your social security number
- address of your former employer
- any documentation you have – such as a letter or email – showing you were laid off or had hours reduced
- copies of your rental agreement, utility bills and records of any other expenses such as student loans
It may be a stressful process to find and gather everything, but keeping these documents together can help you see what other services you may need and that may be available to you right now.
Notify people or services
If you already use services such as a job coach, food stamps or housing assistance, it will be important to let these services know your income situation has changed. Income loss from unemployment or furlough may mean you qualify for increased services, such as receiving more food stamps. Keep your providers informed so they can let you know how access to additional services or supports, such as food pantries.
Develop a budget
While you are living on a limited income, creating and sticking to a budget is incredibly important. List what your current expenses are, factoring in food, utilities, housing, medical expenses, entertainment, pet supplies or any other essential spending categories. Then look for categories that you can reduce or eliminate.
You might be able to eliminate or reduce what you typically spend on entertainment or dining out, for example, especially if your area is under a stay-at-home order. A streaming service could be a cheaper substitute for going to the movies. You may be able to save transportation costs or gym fees by walking or biking as replacements for both transit and fitness. You may look at some money-saving meal planning tips online to save on your grocery bill or use what is available at your food pantry.
Be honest about your spending. It may take a few tries to get a budget that works for your specific situation. Sticking within a budget can be difficult but essential to making your money stretch further in times of crisis.
If you are low-income, you may qualify for a free phone or discounted phone service program through the federal Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications program. Your local utility providers, mortgage companies and other lenders may also be able to extend a grace period or set up a payment program to help you. Contact your providers directly about their assistance programs.
Stick to a routine
Losing a job is a major change to routine. Hold onto existing routines as a way to bring some balance to your days. Try to maintain a similar or adjusted routine by getting up in the morning, completing morning routines like getting dressed and going to bed at a consistent and typical hour. By minimizing the disruptions to the rest of your day, you can keep your other routines from falling apart.
211 is a free phone service putting people in touch with local agencies in resources. This number can help provide information on food pantries, rent assistance programs, mental health services and many other community programs that may help during a loss of income. It is a great tool to find services are in your area. Find more information at www.211.org
Address your mental health
Filing for unemployment can require a one-week wait. That being said, the ordeal of losing a job is a stressful one and may be a foreign experience. Make sure to take time to care for yourself during this transition. With the added stress of current events, it is even more important to care for your mind and body. Understand that these job layoffs are not a reflection on your hard work. Reach out to a support network to feel heard and validated in these times. That may be an online community or taking the time to schedule a video call with friends and family.
Explore new skills
Are there any job skills, courses or activities you have wished you had time to work on? Even though the current situation is less than ideal, this may be the right time to explore learning new skills. Don’t add more stress by thinking you “should” keep working hard if there are other things in your life that need attention, but consider whether you could use this downtime to your advantage.
Free online courses are being offered right now in many different fields, from software programs to languages to business certifications. Think about any job skills you might want to improve or that will make you even more attractive to a new employer in your field. This can also help you think about the future in an optimistic way and work toward building a career best suited to your interests.