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How To File For Unemployment Benefits

Published 6/29/08 (Modified 6/17/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

For those of you who are fortunate to have a stable job and blessed with being gainfully employed, congratulations and more power to you. For those of you who are currently unemployed or out of a job, I feel your frustration. I've been there before and know how scary and uncertain the experience can be.

In this fluctuating and unpredictable economy, you never quite know what is lurking around the corner. Life comes at us fast and sometimes job stability, occupational predictability, and all positive aspects of full time employment can disappear in a flash. Sometimes it can be due to our own fallibility and less than perfect work performance, and sometimes it can be due to slowdowns in the economy at large. Life is unpredictable and it's hard to be certain whether there is such a field that's a sure thing anymore. During the past few years, jobs and careers related to the real estate and housing market were hot and in great demand. However, years later, with the collapse of the housing bubble, many of the jobs previously fueled by the burgeoning real estate market have mostly disappeared. Even upper echelon MBA-type financial positions at top firms like Merrill Lynch have been down sized and trimmed back, resulting in many educated employees suddenly out of work.

If you find yourself one of many who have been laid off, I feel for you. I've been through a sudden job lay off before and it's not an easy feeling or experience to go through. Not only does it put you in a sudden cash flow crunch, but it forces you to scramble around in desperation to find employment quickly. For those who have a wife, husband, or children depending on that income, the extra financial and familial pressures make the process even more urgent. However, it doesn't have to be the end of the world. There are systems and governmental assistance programs in place to help guide and cushion you during those periodic times of unemployment - namely in the form of unemployment insurance benefits. Don't let those invaluable financial benefits and entitlements pass you by during times of need - seize them immediately.

Do Not Let Petty Shame Or Guilt Prevent You From Filing For Unemployment Insurance Benefits - It's Your Money and You Are Entitled To It

I've filed for unemployment benefits several times throughout my working career thus far. I will admit, the first time I filed, I felt a tinge of shame and guilt. I felt like it was a hit on my aura of financial independence and a stain on my own sense of masculine pride. As someone who was raised to believe that an important aspect of a man's duty and responsibility was to provide for himself and his family, it was difficult for me to depend on governmental handouts for the first time. To me, receiving unemployment benefits meant I was now on welfare, and no better than some unmotivated or lazy 40 year old bum who lived in his parent's basement like some financial leach on society.

However, now that I've had experience with being the recipient of unemployment benefits, I now understand what it truly is. To receive unemployment insurance benefits is by no means the same as receiving public welfare. It's a genuine financial safety net that is subsidized by employers in a socialized manner to help decent working people get back on their feet quickly with as little financial destruction or burden as possible. While unemployment benefits provide free money for times when you're not working, a fundamental and required tenant is that the recipient actively pursue employment leads while drawing on the temporary financial perks. Being a recipient has no effect on your existing credit score and the mere act of filing has no effect on your future employment prospects. The small amount of compensation provided isn't sufficient to save or grow rich on, but is just enough to give one a semblance of financial continuity and feeling of self reliance until the person can get back on his or her feet. It helps those who want to help themselves.

Who Pays For The Funds Dispersed For Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment benefits are provided by a special jointly run fund provided by federal and state payroll taxes called the Unemployment Insurance program. No part of an employee's actual paycheck goes directly into this unemployment fund (unlike social security) but is instead indirectly funded by employers through a special unemployment insurance tax that they pay. Almost all employers are required to pay unemployment insurance tax to help fund this public service. Unlike worker's compensation, the employer does not pay unemployment benefits to laid off employees directly, but payments are instead issued by the responsible state agency as needed. Even if an employer goes out of business, unemployment benefits can still be distributed out to the company's now unemployed workers because funds are socially subsidized by other active employers who pay into this pool of shared funds. When you are out of work for whatever reason, it's in your own interest to apply for unemployment benefits as soon as possible. Even if you refuse to file for it, you should know that you are still indirectly paying for this socialized governmental service.

Remember, there is no shame in taking on this temporary financial safety net as a short term stop gap measure - it was designed for you when you need it the most. The money is rightfully yours because your employer pays into the fund on a mandatory basis. Without its existence, you theoretically would have been given higher pay. If because of pride, you refuse to take this temporary governmental handout, ask yourself this question - will pride put food on the table for your family in the meantime until you can find your next job? Will pride pay for necessary groceries or pay for a roof over your held until you can secure that next job interview? Think about it. Desperate times require desperate measures. I personally view unemployment benefits as part of my emergency fund measures.

As Soon As You Become Unemployed, Apply For Unemployment Benefits Immediately

The most important thing to know about seeking unemployment benefit compensation is to file as soon as you become either partially or fully unemployed. Even if you suspect you will be able to file a new job relatively soon, it's still in your best interest to still file for it sooner than later. There is almost always a 1-2 week lag time between filing and when you receive benefits. Frequently, there is also a mandatory one week waiting period during which the first week will not be compensated for. The benefit clock starts when you file so if you wait around to see if a new job is forthcoming, you may miss out on much deserved unemployment entitlements. If you wait several months after becoming unemployed to file, you won't be able to claim for the non-working months that have already passed. You can only claim for the time that comes after the moment you file, so don't delay - get credit for every single moment you remain unemployed.

Even if you are confident that you have sufficient pre-existing emergency funds to live off of, it's better to file and not risk the chance that your emergency funds ultimately run out. You don't want to look back later down the road only after draining your bank account completely and racking up unpaid credit card bills, and realized that you ought to have applied for unemployment benefits earlier.

Where Do You File For Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment benefit applications should be filed in the state where the work was performed. Check out this official U.S. Department of Labor List Of State Unemployment Agencies to determine the correct filing location. Most states today allow unemployment benefit applications to be filed via telephone, in person, or through the Internet. If you want to avoid the stigma or emotional embarrassment of filing for this entitlement in person, filing via phone or through the Internet is a great way to circumvent this problem. Not only that, those methods are also quicker ways get your money more expeditiously.

As mentioned, unemployment filings are made with the state unemployment agency in the state jurisdiction where the work was performed. If you lived in New York and worked in New York, you need to file your claim with the state of New York. What about those who lived in one state, but worked in another? In my case when I filed way back when, I lived in the state of Maryland, but worked in Washington D.C. Since I performed my employment in D.C., my place of unemployment benefit filing would be in D.C. since that's where my employers actively paid their unemployment taxes to. I could still file with the state of Maryland, but would ultimately be referred by the unemployment hotline and managing system to seek benefits from Washington D.C.

Who Is Entitled To File For Unemployment Benefits and How Much Money Can You Expect?

Generally (individual state laws vary), to qualify for unemployment benefits, an applicant must (1) meet state eligibility requirements regarding how long the employee has previously been working and how much money the employee has earned, (2) make continuing and regular application updates to the managing state agency, (3) be continuously available for work and actively seeking work, and (4) not be subject to any disqualifying employment factor.

To be entitled for unemployment benefits, employees must have become unemployed through no fault of their own (although definitions on fault vary by state). Generally those who voluntarily quit their jobs or were discharged from their positions due to willful misconduct can't qualify. However, if you were laid off due to downsizing or were discharged due to simple lack of work, you will probably be entitled to benefits. Once approved, to continue to draw on your weekly unemployment checks or direct deposits, you will required to submit weekly updates of your employment and income status either by phone or over the Internet. During that time, you are expected to actively look for work. Obviously the benefits will stop as soon as you become gainfully employed again. While it's somewhat unlikely the state agency will know if you go on vacation during that period of time instead of looking for work, you should also know that by doing so, you are committing fraud and may be required to pay the benefits back along with penalty fees if discovered. I know some people who did decide to take a brief vacation while still drawing on unemployment benefits, managing to stay under the radar, but not everyone will be that fortunate. Big brother government has sneaky ways to track you down.

To file for unemployment benefits with your state agency, you will need to provide your name, mailing address, phone number, social security number, working phone number, and may sometimes be asked to provide recent pay stubs. However, with computerized filings, oftentimes you will only need to provide your former employer's name and address, without having to provide wage or salary paperwork. Your most recent employer will be automatically contacted by the state unemployment agency to verify the circumstances and reasons of your work discharge or layoff. Their response will help determine whether you exhibit any of the disqualifying factors to receiving unemployment benefits such as you quitting on your own, or getting fired because you were stealing from them.

The amount of your weekly unemployment benefit checks will vary depending on your past income and the maximum limits of your filing jurisdiction. For those who are higher income earners, your weekly checks will be worth more. The maximum payout amount also differs from state to state. Just to give you a very rough ballpark figure of how much you can expect, the maximum payout for the District of Columbia is currently $359 a week, before tax. At about $1,436 a month, this definitely goes a long way to help pay for basic living expenses like rent until you can get back on your employment feet.

Usually there is a total amount of benefits that each specific applicant can draw upon before the entire fund for that benefit year is tapped out. But until that happens, applicants can usually receive benefits for 6 months straight (26 weeks) before depleting their entire emergency unemployment benefit reserves. Keep in mind as well, all unemployment payouts are considered taxable income. There is usually no tax withholding associated with unemployment benefits so you may be required to pay estimated taxes to meet your tax obligations.

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115 Responses to “Unemployment Benefits | Unemployment Insurance | Money Blue Book” 

  1. Jena says:

    I have been working full-time for the same company for 11 years, but as of 2 weeks ago, I drastically reduced my hours so that I could go to school full-time for one semester. Before making this decision, I discussed my situation with my employer and told him point-blank that I am interested in working on a very limited part-time basis (7 hours/week) for 4 months, while I complete my schooling, and then coming back to work full-time in May, when I am finished. I told him I would only do this if it was not a problem with him, and he agreed (everything was only verbal). So now out of nowhere, he implied today that he might not need me full-time in May anymore because business is slow and if it stays that way, he won't need me. So what unemployment benefit options would I have at that point? Is there anything I should do to protect myself now in case this should really happen? Thank you.

  2. Edd Jobs says:

    Linda,

    The state of Mississippi, like most states, has a Unemployment Insurance Claimant Handbook. Unfortunately, it is very brief and does not provide detailed guidance. The state also uses a ridiculously long 355 character URL to link to the handbook, so I've created a Tiny URL alternative to take you to the handbook instead. Click http://tiny.cc/36BNx

    The Mississippi handbook does state, among other things, that a claimant must "be unemployed through no fault of your own" and also to report "any offer of work."

    There is also a section of the handbook that describes the Mississippi appeals process. It reads, "A claimant or an employer affected by a decision of the agency can appeal the denial of benefits, or the award of benefits. The adversely affected party can appeal an initial determination, or an amended determination. Your appeal must be in writing and must be filed within fourteen (14) calendar days of the mail date on the decision. Holidays and weekends will not extend the time for filing the appeal. To file an appeal, you should report to the claims center or itinerant point where proper forms and information are available. If you appeal by letter, your Social Security number should be included. IF YOU REMAIN UNEMPLOYED, you should continue to file your claim each week until you receive a decision."

    The federal government has a state by state directory of public benefits available when people are in need. You can find it at http://www.govbenefits.gov

  3. Edd Jobs says:

    Jena,

    If you have been in covered employment, contributions into the state fund should have been made by your employer for all of your work, part time or otherwise, that you have performed over what the state of New York considers to be your base period for purposes of eligibility. A description of how the state determines eligibility and calculates the amount of benefits to be paid is set out in the state Unemployment Handbook, beginning on pages 3 and 4.

    You can download the entire handbook at the following URL:

    http://www.labor.state.ny.us/formsdocs/ui/tcce4-08web.pdf

    Hope it helps.

  4. Dave says:

    I am currently unemployed in Pennsylvania and am pulling in 408 a week in UC benefits. I recently turned down a job offer for 9 dollars an hour which would be 360 dollars a week. i was reading in the PA UC law and it says in one part that suitable employment must be no less than 80% of my "average weekly wage", as defined in the fair trade act, which is one-thirteenth of my highest quarter, the quarter my unemployment is based on. My average weekly wage is roughly 800 dollars a week. can i be denied for UC benefits for turning down a job making about 40% of my average weekly wage, which is even LESS than what i am making on unemployment?

  5. Edd Jobs says:

    Cynthia,

    Colorado unemployment benefits are based on wages received in covered employment for the previous 4 to 5 months, depending on which method is used to calculate compensation.

    You can find the Colorado unemployment handbook here:

    http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheader=application/pdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251607133378&ssbinary=true

  6. MILO says:

    If the employer offer me lower salary and i don't want to accept it,and he fired me, can i get unemployment ??

  7. DLB says:

    Hello. I read every comment and question and don't believe this question has been asked. I'm currently receiving emergency benefits from NY. I'm thinking of moving to NJ. Can I still exhaust my emergency benefits from NY if I move to another state and can't find employment there in the next several months? If so, what do I need to do? Do I just change my address and continue to claim weekly benefits like normal?

  8. Edd says:

    DLB,

    The following is from the NY Claimant Handbook:

    What if I am going to move out of New
    York State?

    If you are planning to move to another state, you must
    notify the TCC immediately. They can provide
    information on transferring your claim.

    Contact the TCC at the toll-free 1-888-209-8124
    number (1-877-358-5306 for Out-of-State residents)
    between 8:00am and 5:00pm, Monday through Friday,
    Eastern Standard Time. After you enter your Social
    Security number and PIN, you must select the option to
    change your name or address.

    For Direct Deposit users: once you change your
    address on our system, you should contact your
    financial institution to update your new contact
    information.

    For Direct Payment Card users: once you change your
    address on our system, you must contact Chase
    Customer Service at 1-877-221-1634 to update your
    new contact information.

    http://www.labor.state.ny.us/formsdocs/ui/TC318_3e.pdf

  9. Edd says:

    Milo,

    Milo,

    Once you submit your claim, the state of Florida will get information from your former employer. Based on the information received, the state will make a determination as to whether your claim for benefits will be granted or denied.

    You may find the following link and text useful:

    http://www.floridajobs.org/Unemployment/bri/BRI%20English%20Rev%2010-2007%20for%20web.pdf

    When potentially disqualifying information is received from former employers or other valid sources:

    ������ Your claim will be sent to the Adjudication Unit.
    ������ You may be contacted for additional information.
    ������ A separate determination will be made for each issue and employer.

    When the investigation is completed, a written determination will be mailed to explain whether benefits are allowed or denied.

    Read your determination carefully!

    ������ If your claim is payable, you will receive a payment for any payable weeks that you claimed.
    ������ If your claim is not payable, the determination will explain the reason for denial and your appeal rights.

    If you disagree with a determination that denies benefits, you may request an appeal hearing. See page 10 in this booklet for more information.

    Some of the reasons a person may be denied benefits are as follows:

    ������ Quitting either part-time or full-time work for personal reasons. Benefit payments can only be paid if you quit for good cause attributable to your employer, or for a personal illness or disability that made it necessary for you to leave the job.
    ������ Being discharged for misconduct connected with work. Misconduct is an intentional or controllable act or failure to take action, which shows a deliberate disregard of the employer's interests. Misconduct may include breaking a known company policy.
    ������ Not being able to work or available for work. You must be able, ready and willing to accept a suitable job immediately. You must also be able to get to work and have adequate child care in order to be able to work.
    ������ Refusing an offer of suitable work.
    ������ Being on a leave of absence you requested.
    ������ Knowingly making false statements to obtain benefit payments.

  10. Edd says:

    Unsure,

    Georgia may look on your situation as being voluntary. You have a choice (though admittedly not much of one) on whether or not to move.

    You can apply and see what their decision is.

    The standard set out in Georgia's unemployment handbook is:

    YOUR JOB SEPARATION

    1. You must be unemployed or partially unemployed through no fault of
    your own to receive benefits. Information will be obtained from your
    employer regarding your separation. Examples of potentially
    qualifying reasons are:

    You were laid off due to lack of work.

    You are still working but the employer reduced your hours due
    to a lack of work.

    You were fired without work-related misconduct.

    You quit your job for a good work-related reason.

    http://www.dol.state.ga.us/pdf/forms/dol414.pdf

  11. Edd says:

    Chris,

    Those questions look like they came from OMB Standard Form 86. Rather than take a chance on the proper interpretation of the questions, you might want to get clarification from someone within the agency first.

  12. Edd says:

    The following is from the Texas Workforce Commission Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Work Search InformatIon handbook, addressing issues affecting benefits:

    ������ Quit to move with your spouse, Texas reduces the number of weeks and the amount of benefits you can receive.

    ������ Quit to move with your military spouse, Texas lets you receive benefits without penalty if your spouse has a permanent change of station longer than 120 days or a tour of duty longer than one year.

    See http://www.twc.state.tx.us/ui/bnfts/bi-99.pdf

  13. John says:

    Hi, I live in Texas and I was laid off in Feb. 2009. I spent 3 months on unemployment and then got a job at a facility in another town. I worked this job for 3 months and with the recession in full swing they were getting workers much cheaper than what they were paying me. I was let go under "circumstances" and I filed again for unemployment. The second company fought it and I won and was granted unemployment again because I had done no wrong. During the first two weeks after I was let go I took a job 145 miles from my house (I was desperate) and tried to keep up the drive of 300 miles per day and 10 hr shift. It was brutal and I could not. I was falling asleep at the wheel. The job didn't pay enough to warrant a move, they fired a guy the first week and they were threatening if I didn't "make production" they would lower my pay AND I have a 13 yr old in school. The job was terrible. I was there 2 weeks and resigned. Right after I left, my unemployment was approved. I listed the income when I filed my claim and did not get a state check for those two weeks. They had reinstated my original claim and I drew state pay for 3 months (to finish out the 6 months state) and then went on Federal extended. The Feds kicked it back to the state saying Texas should have started a NEW claim that second time because I made enough money in those 3 months at the second job to qualify. I should have gotten 6 months state granted again. So my extended benefits abruptly ended while the state sorted this out. I talked to them on the phone several times and the guy I talked to said I was approved because that short term out of town job was unreasonable. He said he talked to his supervisor. I was relieved. Then the following day a hold was placed on my acct. (I use online access). I called again and was told I had to wait 3 to 6 weeks for my checks to begin again but it would happen. It has been two weeks since that conversation. Now, I see on the Texas Unemployment web site that I am denied because "You are disqualified because you quit your job". I was under the impression you are not required in Texas to take a job more than 50 miles from your home and I told this employer going in I would "give it a try but it's a long ways" (machinist job, small shop). I drove 1800 miles in the two weeks I worked there. It was just impossible to keep it up. I am going to appeal the decision. Fortunately I found a job almost immediately after I was told I would have to wait and have started working again (thank the good lord, he was watching out for me) but I am afraid if I do not appeal they will cry foul. Besides, I feel I was in the right and it's the principle. They still owe me for at least the two weeks I didn't get after the Fed kicked it back. Can anyone advise me?

  14. Adonis R. Thomas says:

    Indiana resident for 21 years & worked for Indiana employer approximately 9 mos in 2008. When I was laid off, may expectation was to be recalled when more work was available. When I filed for Indiana UC benefits the first of 4 times, I responded that I would not accept other full-time employment were it offered to me. My claims were denied. After realizing that I was probably not going to be caled back to work by my former employer, on my next application for uc benefits, I responded that I would accept other full-time employment were it offered to me. This claim was also denied. As far as I know, my former employer paid what the law requires to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development fund and to the federal unemployment fund. Ohter employees in my exact situation have been granted uc benefits. Thanks for any help you might provide.

  15. K Cross says:

    I have accepted a position in PA due to a slow down in MD. My husband is currently working in MD, but we are relocating to PA due to lower cost of living and transportation issues. If he resigns from his job will he be eligible for unemployment benefits while searching for employment in PA?

  16. Michael says:

    I have a similar situation as the one described by K Cross. My wife is a new graduate nurse and took a job in WI after she was unable to find employment in MN. She started working at a hospital in WI, January 2010. Before her employment in December 2009, my wife and I signed a six-month lease on a townhome in MN that runs through June 2010. I am currently employed in MN and am looking to resign my position in June when my lease is up to accompany my wife in WI. Commuting is not realistic as the town in which my wife resides is approximately a 5 hour commute from my current job. I know that MN has a statute that allows someone to collect unemployment if they quit to relocate with a spouse, but I'm not sure how proceed. Should I tell my employer that I intend to file for unemployment before I file with the state? What if anything should I state in my resignation letter pertaining to the circumstances with my wife and moving out of state to be with her. Thanks for considering my question.

    https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=268.095

  17. Rashid says:

    An employee lied about me having misconduct and got me fired. She later confessed. Meanwhile, I didn't file unemployment rightaway because I thought I was going to find a job with no problem. Well, it's been 10 months and I'm still out of work. I filed for unemployment 2 months later and they denied me. They questioned and asked why I didn't file sooner. I told them I thought I would find a job sooner. They denied me for not having a good enough excuse. What is a good enough excuse? I was being honest.

  18. Rashid says:

    My comment above is in the state of MD.

  19. Christianne says:

    I worked for my company for 10 years, and had to move no fault of my own due to a military move (husband). My question is: my company has me as reserve and can't promise me the same amount of hours. They have me traveling using my car to work, the travel is 4 to 6 hours of driving. Sometimes I work 4 to 7 days then could be off for 2 weeks. I'm I eligible? Worked in TX but now live in OK, what state do i file?

  20. Luke says:

    Hi i have just recieved a call from corporate office of my company saying that they have evidence against me saying that i changed the time i clocked in. I myself had nothing to say back in reply because I have no recollection of doing this. If I am fired will I be able to collect unemployment. I am in school right now and will be graduating in September and have a job waiting for me after I graduate. Do you think I be able to collect unemployment until i get my new job?

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