A Quick Overview of Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment benefits are available to employees in every state who are out of work through no fault of their own.  In most states, workers are eligible for unemployment benefits if their earnings meet certain minimum thresholds in terms of hours or wages; and if they were laid off, quit for good cause, or were fired for anything other than misconduct. States typically require that applicants be actively searching to find a suitable job while receiving benefits.

Here is a quick and simplified overview of the process.  You can receive benefits if you meet a series of legal eligibility requirements including:

  • You must be monetarily eligible.
  • You must be totally or partially unemployed.
  • You must have an approvable job separation; the law imposes a disqualification for certain types of separations.
  • You must meet certain weekly legal requirements; weekly requirements include being physically and mentally able to work, being available for and seeking work, and filing your weekly claim for benefits on a timely basis.
  • If you are identified as likely to exhaust unemployment benefits and are enrolled in the worker profiling and reemployment services program, you must fully participate in all assessment interviews, orientation, and referred reemployment services.

Locate your local unemployment office You can find the "unemployment insurance office" for your state online.  Although you might be able to file a claim online, certain parts of the application process might need to be completed in person, depending on the state.

Learn the requirements to determine if you qualify to collect unemployment benefits. There are certain circumstances under which you may not qualify, including if you did not make the minimum required earnings or if you are a self-employed contractor to a corporation. However, most people who have been laid off and who are in the work force for at least six months will qualify to collect unemployment benefits. 

Make sure your past earnings meet the requirements. States usually require you to have earned a certain amount during a one-year base period to qualify. The base period is usually the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you filed your claim.

Make sure your reasons for leaving qualify you for unemployment benefits. Most states will accept certain reasons for leaving your job as legitimate while denying others like quitting.

Make sure you are available and willing to work. The state may ask for records verifying your job search as well as for the results of your search. In order to collect unemployment, you must be actively looking for work, and if given a reasonable offer of employment, accept it.

Fill out the required application for the state unemployment insurance. There will be a series of questions for you to answer requiring you to provide the reasons for your unemployment.  Standard information such as your name, date of birth, address and social security number will also be required.

Complete an interview in person or by phone. To cut down on unemployment insurance fraud, many states require that people be interviewed over the phone or in person before benefits can begin. Benefits will usually be paid retro-actively to the date of termination. Be sure to have copies of your pay stubs, your most recent tax return, you birth certificate, and your Social Security number in case verification is needed.

Collect unemployment benefits. The amount you earned while you were employed will determine your unemployment benefit. You will begin to receive a check from the state each week for a period of 26 weeks, possibly longer depending on whether there are extenuating prevailing economic conditions that prompt the state and federal government to extend benefits to some recipients.

Continue to file for unemployment weekly or biweekly, depending on your state's rules, until you secure a job or your unemployment benefit runs out. The subsequent application will be much shorter than the initial one. It will essentially ask if you procured work, and if so, how much money you made.

Each state has its own rules for determining eligibility, calculating the amount and duration of benefits, and appealing denials of benefits.  


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