Make us your home page
Instagram

What you need to know about collecting unemployment benefits

With the seemingly endless stream of news about job cuts in recent weeks, you may be wondering about your own job security. How would you get by if you were suddenly out of work?

For the uninitiated, filing for unemployment may conjure images of standing in long lines to fill out forms, but that's not the case.

Eligibility and compensation vary by state, but a few general guidelines apply across the board. Most states, for instance, now require people to apply for benefits online or by phone.

That may make filing easier for the freshly out-of-work. More than 1.9- million jobs have been lost since a year ago. Last month, the unemployment rate jumped to 6.7 percent, and 10.1-million people are now looking for work. In November alone, 533,000 jobs were lost, the most single-month loss in 34 years. Next year isn't looking any better, with the rate expected to climb to 8.5 percent or higher.

Here are some questions and answers about how to make the most of your unemployment benefits.

Q: Am I eligible?

A: Most employees who lost their jobs through no fault of their own are eligible. If you were fired for misconduct or quit, don't bother applying.

In certain circumstances, resigning isn't a deal-breaker. One example is if you left your job because your spouse was relocated.

"It depends on the case, but it has to be for a compelling reason," said Rick Marino, director of unemployment insurance in New York state.

You may be eligible even if you take a company buyout, as long as there was a likelihood you would have been laid off otherwise, Marino said.

Each state also has its own eligibility criteria based on how long you worked and how much money you earned before being laid off. Generally, anyone who worked full time for a year will likely qualify — and sometimes the minimum is shorter than that.

Q: When do I need to file?

A: Filing quickly is in your best interest.

The value of your unemployment check is generally determined by a "base period." That means your earnings in the months leading up to your filing will be used to calculate your benefits.

If you wait too long to file, you may be averaging in time where you didn't earn any money, which could potentially lower your benefits.

Some states have "alternative base periods" or other loopholes to prevent delayed filings from affecting benefits. But to avoid any confusion, it's best to file quickly.

Q: How do I file?

A: If you commute to work in another state, file for benefits where your employer is located, not where you live.

Most states now require people to file for benefits by phone or online, said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project in New York.

Information you'll need when filing might include:

• Your Social Security number.

• Registration number for former employers (this can be found on your W-2 tax forms).

• Dates and places where you worked in the past 12 to 18 months (not just your most recent employer).

After filing, you'll need to check in weekly or biweekly to continue getting benefits. That usually involves answering automated questions online or by phone about your ongoing job search.

Q: How much will I get?

A: On average, states replace 50 percent of wages, with a cap on how much you can get.

In California, for instance, the maximum weekly benefit is $450, regardless of how much you earned. Florida's cap is $275 while Hawaii's is $523.

Most states also provide additional funds for dependents, usually a fixed sum.

In Massachusetts, for instance, the allowance is $25 per dependent.

Benefits can usually be paid through direct deposit, said Thomas Golden, director at Cornell University's ILR School, which focuses on labor policy and issues.

Q: How long can I collect benefits after filing?

A: Benefits typically last for up to 26 weeks. This summer, the federal government temporarily extended benefits for up to 13 additional weeks because of the worsening economic climate. The extension applies to anyone who exhausted benefits in the past two years or files through March, Stettner said.

President Bush signed legislation last month to extend benefits into the new year for Americans whose benefits were running out. The House had approved the bill in October, and the Senate followed suit last month.

All told, benefits can be collected over a 52-week period after filing. So if you find temporary work, you can resume collecting benefits once that job ends.

Q: What else can my unemployment agency do for me?

A: As a result of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, states are required to provide one-stop centers that provide job search, training and referral services.

In New York, for instance, workshops include Excel and PowerPoint lessons and occupational training classes.

Employment centers usually have free Internet and phones to help people with their job search too.

Q: Do I lose benefits if I turn down a job?

A: If your unemployment agency matches you with a job and you turn it down, you may be disqualified for benefits. Stettner of the National Employment Law Project said it is rare to be denied benefits because of refusal to work.

He also noted that job matches are most common for lower-wage or entry-level positions.

What you need to know about collecting unemployment benefits 12/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 1:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Grocery chain Aldi hiring for 500 positions across Florida

    Retail

    Aldi, the German grocery store chain, is hiring for 500 positions across Florida, including at its locations in Tampa Bay. The company will hold a "one-day hiring spree" Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at all Aldi stores in the state, a Tuesday release said.

    Aldi, a German grocery store chain, is hiring for 500 positions across the state. | [Times file photo]
  2. Irma's death toll in Florida rises to 42, but will grow

    News

    TALLAHASSEE —Deadly carbon monoxide fumes have killed 11 people in Florida as Hurricane Irma's death toll rose to 42 on Tuesday, state officials reported.

    A resident walks by a pile of debris caused by a storm surge during Hurricane Irma in Everglades City. The isolated Everglades City community of about 400 people suffered some of Florida's worst storm surges, up to 9 feet (2.7 meters), when Hurricane Irma slammed the region eight days ago, leaving the insides of homes a sodden mess and caking the streets with mud. The storm affected nearly every part of the state, and, so far, the death toll stands at 42. [AP Photo | Alan Diaz]
  3. After Irma, Tampa Bay synagogues get ready for Rosh Hashana

    Religion

    As the holiest days of the Jewish calendar approached, so did Hurricane Irma.

    Congregants open the ark which holds several torah scrolls during Selichot services at Congregation B'nai Israel of St. Petersburg on Saturday, September 16, 2017. The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Wednesday night.
  4. Toys 'R' Us files for bankruptcy but keeps stores open (w/video)

    Retail

    NEW YORK — Toys 'R' Us, the big box toy retailer struggling with $5 billion in debt and intense online competition, has filed for bankruptcy protection ahead of the key holiday shopping season — and says its stores will remain open for business as usual.

    Shoppers shop in a Toys R Us store on Black Friday in Miami in 2016. Toys R Us, the pioneering big box toy retailer, announced late Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while continuing with normal business operations. [Associated Press]
  5. Trigaux: Waiting for your next pay raise? Keep dreaming, employers hint

    Working Life

    The economy's bouncing back. The stock market keeps hitting new records. And the jobless rate in Florida may soon drop below 4 percent. Surely, these are robust indicators — key signs that an annual raise is just around the corner. Right?

    Who doesn't want a pay raise? Demonstrators have rallied for years in a number of states for a $15 minimum wage. But many workers across a broad pay range are unlikely to see much if any raises this year, a new survey says. [AP Photo/Seth Wenig]