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Unemployment insurance, also known as UI, is a program offered by the U.S. Department of Labor for recently unemployed citizens. Qualified applicants can get unemployment benefits to help supplement their income while they search for new jobs. While unemployment compensation benefits are largely funded by taxes placed on employers, unemployment eligibility and benefit amounts are determined by state agencies. These benefits are only available for a limited number of weeks, and applicants are required to verify their eligibility regularly.
In order to apply for unemployment benefits, you must meet specific qualifications outlined by the state where you were laid off. In most cases, state agencies use factors like your amount of wages earned to help determine your eligibility for unemployment and your benefit amount. However, not all reasons for termination qualify you for benefits. If you are interested in how to apply for unemployment compensation, it is important to notify your state agency to begin the process as soon as possible.
What are unemployment insurance benefits?
Unemployment insurance is a temporary financial assistance program supported by the federal and state governments. Each state develops its own version of the program, based on federal guidelines and the needs of residents. As such, unemployment eligibility requirements, benefit periods and the amount of benefits available largely depend on the state in which an applicant files for unemployment. Applicants who meet the requirements outlined by their state can get unemployment benefits until the benefit period ends, they exhausted their benefit award amount or they are able to find adequate employment, whichever is sooner.
It is important to note that UI benefits are considered taxable income. Therefore, you must remember to report any benefits that you get on your income tax documents for the following year. If you desire, you can request to have taxes withheld from your unemployment benefits to simplify this process, using a Form W4-V. You will get a Form 1099-G reporting the number of benefits you get during the year to help you complete your tax forms.
How to Qualify for Unemployment Benefits
In order to get unemployment compensation, there are certain qualifications that all applicants must meet. In general, any citizen who becomes unemployed due to unforeseen circumstances that are not their fault. This includes federal employees as well as military service members who are released from their employment. Particular qualifications vary depending on the state, though most rely on the following factors:
- Length of employment and wages earned: “How long do you have to work to get unemployment benefits?” is an important question to ask when determining your qualifications. The answer is determined using a base period. Generally, the base period is the first four calendar quarters out of the last five quarters completed before you file your claim. During the base period, we look at two things: (1) how much you worked during the base period, and (2) how much you earned during the base period. In order to qualify, you must work a certain length of time and earn a certain level of wages during this established period. The specific amount of time and wages required is where most states differ, though a history of long-term and steady employment is favorable.
- Terms of departure: In addition to fulfilling the base period requirement, you must also become unemployed through no fault of your own. In other words, you do not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits if you are fired under negative circumstances, like violating sexual harassment policies in the workplace. Likewise, you generally do not qualify if you quit your position. Exceptions to this rule include if you are experiencing harassment or discrimination, and similar conditions.
- Willingness and ability to find work: Another important condition of your unemployment eligibility is your agreement to search for alternative employment. Many states require you to register with the state employment service or a workforce center to begin your search. Some states may use a different term than “workforce center” to describe an agency that offers employment-related services. If you are unable to work due to a disability or illness, you may qualify for other types of benefits or help.
In order to remain eligible for benefits, you are required to file a claim for unemployment regularly. This is usually requested on a weekly or biweekly basis. On your unemployment claim, you must share information on your job search and any income you earned since your last update.
How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits
The process to apply for unemployment compensation involves filing a claim with your state agency. Therefore, the first step to receiving your benefits is determining how to file for unemployment in your particular state. Some states allow you to file over the phone, while others offer online portals for this purpose. In any case, you must complete the following steps:
1. Notify the state agency of your unemployment as soon as possible.
2. Choose a method to submit your application.
3. Share specific and accurate information regarding your former employment on the application.
4. Register with the state workforce center to begin looking for a new position.
5. Keep a detailed record of your job search efforts, job offers, rejections and other relevant information to update the state agency as needed. Each state will require you to provide specific information on your job search, so make sure you know what needs to be included in your records.
It is important to file for unemployment in the correct state. If you recently moved, you must follow the procedures outlined by the state in which you originally worked. This is known as an interstate claim. Once you file your interstate claim in the proper jurisdiction, you can register with the workforce center in your current state.
Likewise, if you worked in multiple states when you became unemployed, you must apply for unemployment in one of those states. The unemployment agency of the state you choose will contact the other states on your behalf. This becomes your paying state, which then bundles all of your wages into one convenient package. Once your total wage amount is calculated, the agency is able to determine the level of benefits you are eligible for.
How much are unemployment benefits?
“How much do you get for unemployment benefits?” is another common question whose answer varies across the country. In general, your unemployment benefit award is calculated based on a percentage of the wages you earned during the 52 weeks before you became unemployed. Each state is responsible for determining this exact percentage for its applicants. This means that the employment and income information you give on your unemployment application is vital.
Every state also sets a maximum unemployment benefit amount for applicants. The maximum weekly benefit rates currently range between $235 and $742, depending on which state you apply in. Additional benefits may be awarded to those who are financially responsible for any dependents.
How long does it take to get unemployment benefits?
Once your unemployment application is received, the state agency must verify the information you gave before determining your eligibility for benefits. This involves sending a letter to your previous employer stating the reason you gave for your termination. The employer has 14 days to reply to the letter, either confirming or contradicting your claim. Any new information gotten during this process may lengthen the time it takes for your approval. You will either get a notice with a determination of your benefits or a request for more information.
Overall, you can generally expect to get your unemployment compensation in two to three weeks after you file your first claim. However, some states report longer processing times for your benefits, sometimes up to four weeks. In addition, some states require a minimum one-week waiting period to distribute unemployment claims benefits. This is also known as a waiting week. According to certain state laws, you must wait one week during each benefit year before your first unemployment check is distributed. During that week, you must still file your weekly unemployment benefit request and continue to meet all eligibility requirements. Benefits are then distributed during the second week of unemployment eligibility.
How long does unemployment last?
How long you can collect unemployment largely depends on your continued eligibility for unemployment. In order to get benefits each week, you must submit new claims as necessary. Most states allow you to file your unemployment claims for continued eligibility by phone or online. Occasionally, your state agency may ask you to visit a local office to complete an unemployment interview as well.
It is important to remember that unemployment insurance is a temporary program. As such, the federal government sets a limit on how long applicants can continue to get benefits. Most states distribute these benefits in weekly installments over the course of 26 weeks, or until the applicant no longer qualifies (whichever is sooner). However, periods of particularly high unemployment lead some states to offer extensions to those who are eligible.
How to Get an Unemployment Extension
Occasionally, a state may experience an unusually high level of unemployment. During periods like this, these states can offer unemployment benefits extensions to qualified residents through a program known as Extended Benefits. This is not considered the same as benefits awarded during a disaster or other circumstances. Unemployment extensions are offered to recipients who exhaust their original benefit awards but continue to experience unemployment. Generally, unemployment insurance extensions can add up to an extra 13 weeks to the benefit period.
During exceedingly high levels of unemployment, states can choose to lengthen this extension even further with an addition of up to seven weeks. In any state, the maximum length of time for unemployment extensions is 20 weeks. The benefit amount offered during these weeks is the same as the original unemployment compensation. It is important to keep in mind that not all recipients are eligible for a benefits extension. The state agency is responsible for notifying current beneficiaries of extension periods and their eligibility for more unemployment benefits.
What can I do if my unemployment claim is denied?
There are several reasons why you may be denied unemployment, including misconduct in your previous workplace. In the event that your claim is denied by your employer and the state agency, there are steps you can take. You may choose to file an unemployment denial appeal by writing a letter that includes the reason for your appeal and sending it to your state agency or appeals division. This is the only entity capable of awarding or denying you benefits. With this in mind, you must follow your state’s specific guidelines for appeals in order to complete the process. Make sure to contact your state agency directly for the instructions to submit your appeal. Most states will allow you to appeal unemployment denials via the following methods:
- Online through a state portal
- By fax
- By mail
- By phone
- In person at a local job center