If you find yourself without a job, then you may need to apply for unemployment insurance, commonly referred to as unemployment benefits. Those benefits can give you much needed financial payments when you’re not working. But if you don’t know where to start—or what those payments might be—then this guide will help you with everything you need to know.
How to Check Your Potential Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits
Each state sets its own guidelines determining who is eligible for unemployment benefits, as well what those benefits are—e.g., how many weeks of compensation you can collect and how much those payments will be. To find your state’s eligibility criteria, you’ll want to start an internet search with the words “unemployment benefits [state].” That search should return results that will include a government website about benefits or the Employment Development Department (EDD), and you’ll click that link for more information.
While every state is different, there are some overarching similarities for eligibility. For example, to receive benefits, you will need to have worked for a certain period of time, and lost your job for a reason that’s not your fault. You’ll also need to have earned a certain amount of money.
The U.S. government offers a handy “Benefits Finder” tool on Benefits.gov for you to determine your eligibility. Use the questionnaire to find information on benefits you may be eligible to receive.
For example, in the state of California, to receive Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefit payments, you must meet all eligibility requirements when filing a claim and when certifying for benefits. When filing for UI benefits, you must have earned enough wages during the base period to establish a claim, and be:
- Totally or partially unemployed.
- Unemployed through no fault of your own.
- Physically able to work.
- Available for work.
- Ready and willing to accept work immediately.
- Actively looking for work.
What Are Unemployment Benefits
According to USA.gov, unemployment benefits “pay you money if you lose your job through no fault of your own. You must meet your state's eligibility requirements.” And just like eligibility requirements differ from state to state, so, too, do their benefits. Generally, however, benefits are based on a percentage of your earning over the last year—with a minimum amount that must be paid. Those benefits will be subject to federal and most state income taxes, and must be reported.
In certain times—such as during the COVID19 crisis, or during times of high unemployment—some states will offer what’s called extended benefits, which last as long as 13 weeks after the initial benefits run out, according to USA.gov. You can only apply for these benefits after the original benefits run out, and not everyone qualifies for them. You must check with your state.
Here are the common types of unemployment benefits:
- State Unemployment Insurance
- Disaster Unemployment Assistance
- Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees
- Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Service Members
- Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits
- Trade Readjustment Allowances
- Self-Employment Assistance
How Unemployment Benefits Vary by State
While there are some consistencies in unemployment benefits, they can vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, for example, benefits are paid on a weekly basis, according to its government, and are calculated at 50 percent of your average weekly wage during your base period. But in New York, benefits are calculated differently. The state determines your base period, then gives benefits based on two tiers: If you earned more than $3,575 in your highest quarter, your benefit amount is your high quarter wages divided by 26—and if that calculation is less than $143, your benefit rate is $143, according to the state. If you made less than $3,575 in your highest quarter, your benefit amount is your high quarter wages divided by 25 or $100—whichever is higher.
This is just one reason why it’s very important to check your own state’s benefits information.
How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits
As soon as you lose your job, contact your state's unemployment insurance program. (You should contact the state agency in which you worked, in case you live in a different state.) Though an application in each state may look different, you’ll still be asked to provide certain information no matter where you live, such as your address, dates of former employment, and your pay rate.
You can use this map, provided by USA.gov, to find specific information about your state and be provided links to apply online or instructions for how to apply in person or over the phone.
To file for unemployment insurance, you will need to provide the following information:
- Last employer information including company name, supervisor’s name, address (mailing and physical location) and phone number
- Last date worked and the reason you are no longer working
- Gross earnings in the last week you worked, beginning with Sunday and ending with your last day of work
- Information on all employers you worked for during the past 18 months, including name, address (mailing and physical location), the dates of employment, gross wages earned, hours worked per week, hourly rate of pay, and the reason you are no longer working.
- Notice to Federal Employees About Unemployment Insurance, Standard Form 8 (former federal employees only)
- DD 214 Member 4 copy (ex-military only)
- Citizenship status, and, if you are not a U.S. citizen, information from your employment authorization document
How Are Unemployment Benefits Determined
Each state has its own criteria for determining eligibility. For more information about how benefits are determined in your state, visit this link and select your state from the map.
Many states evaluate your unemployment benefits claim based on:
- Past wages
- Job separation(s)
- Ongoing eligibility requirements
To be eligible for benefits based on your job separation, you must be either unemployed or working reduced hours through no fault of your own. Examples include layoff, reduction in hours or wages not related to misconduct, being fired for reasons other than misconduct, or quitting with good cause related to work.
Layoffs are due to lack of work, not your work performance, so you may be eligible for benefits. For example, the employer has no more work available, has eliminated your position, or has closed the business.
Working Reduced Hours
If you are working but your employer reduced your hours, you may be eligible for benefits. Your reduction in hours must not be the result of a disciplinary action or due to your request.
If the employer ended your employment but you were not laid off as defined above, then you were fired. If the employer demanded your resignation, you were fired.
You may be eligible for benefits if you were fired for reasons other than misconduct. Examples of misconduct that could make you ineligible include violation of company policy, violation of law, neglect or mismanagement of your position, or failure to perform your work adequately if you are capable of doing so.
If you chose to end your employment, then you quit. Most people who quit their jobs do not receive unemployment benefits. For example, if you quit your job for personal reasons, such as lack of transportation or stay home with your children, we cannot pay you benefits.
You may be eligible for benefits if you quit for one of the reasons listed below:
- Quit for good cause connected with the work, which means a work-related reason that would make an individual who wants to remain employed leave employment. You should be able to present evidence that you tried to correct work-related problems before you quit.
Examples of quitting for good work-related reason are well-documented instances of:
- Quit for a good reason not related to work, under limited circumstances. Examples include leaving work because:
- Quit to move with your spouse when the move is not part of a qualifying military permanent change of station (PCS).
Heads up: It can take two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit.
Other Government Programs for the Unemployed
There are other benefits of which the unemployed can take advantage. Those include:
- “Federal agencies offer many unemployment education and training programs. They are generally free or low cost to the unemployed,” according to USA.gov.
- Self-employed people can also receive benefits to help them start their own businesses. This benefit is available in: Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon.
- The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, “gives workers and their families the right to choose to continue group health coverage provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time,” according to USA.gov.
Resources for the Recently Unemployed
Now that you know the basics, here are some other resources that might help you if you face unemployment.