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A guide to collecting unemployment benefits including who is eligible for benefits, how to apply, how much you will receive and how long you can collect for.


A primer on collecting unemployment benefits Gail MarksJarvis
The good news is that slowly, but surely, the number of new people filing for unemployment insurance is going down a little.

The bad news is that people are still losing their jobs, and half of those out of work have been without jobs for six months. It’s the worst period for employment since the Labor Department started tracking it in the 1940s.

But the other piece of good news for those who have received pink slips is that unemployment insurance benefits, which provide some pay while people are looking for work, are available for up to 99 weeks. That’s a result of Congress’ action in December. Still, not everyone out of a job qualifies for unemployment. And, as it stands now, people who lose their jobs this year will qualify for benefits — beyond the usual 26 weeks — only up until the end of this year, said Greg Rivara, spokesman for The Illinois Department of Employment Security.

While such states as Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania offer benefits for up to 99 weeks, the Dakotas and Nebraska offer them for only up to 60 weeks, according to analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Fewer than half of the states will offer unemployment for the full 99 weeks. This is the result of different state and federal formulas.
How Many Weeks of Unemployment Compensation Are Available?Visit

Workers in all states can receive up to 26 weeks of benefits from their state-funded unemployment compensation program, but under the extension passed by Congress, federal funds kick in to carry unemployed workers through additional weeks. And some states also allocate additional money.

Although states vary, the following will give you a rough idea of what to expect.

Apply immediately: To get unemployment compensation, you must apply, and it takes time. So as soon as you are terminated, even if you have a severance package, apply immediately. If you are denied, you can appeal.

Who gets unemployment? Generally, if you were working and lost your job through no fault of your own, you get unemployment compensation. But if you quit, you generally won’t get benefits. If your employer failed to pay into the unemployment fund due to, say, hard times, you should still get coverage. Yet some employers, such as some religious institutions, don’t pay into the unemployment system as a matter of course, and if you lose your job there, you do not get coverage. Also, if you have a business that fails, you are not typically considered eligible for unemployment. People collecting unemployment benefits must show that they are looking for a job.

Can students get unemployment? Students who lose a job and could not find another could be eligible for unemployment, even if a couple of months have passed since their last job. States base unemployment benefits on a person’s work history and pay during the last five quarters. A person doesn’t have to work throughout that period but must have worked for a certain amount of time.

How much do you get? This varies by state, but generally it’s less than half of what you were paid. The amount is often determined by looking at your pay during the last five quarters and averaging what you earned during the highest couple of quarters. There are maximums too. For example, in Illinois a person with a child can get as much as $535 a week and a single person $385, but the average benefit is $320 a week, according to Rivara.

If you accept a part-time job, does that end unemployment? You are allowed to accept part-time work to supplement unemployment work up to certain limits. The rules vary by state, but in some you can earn up to 40 percent of your unemployment benefits without losing any benefits.

Can I move? If you move to another state to look for work, that is OK. You apply for benefits in the state where you lost your job and can get automatic deposits into an account. What are extended benefits? When Congress voted in December to authorize up to 99 weeks of unemployment compensation, some unemployed people thought that meant an additional 99 weeks on top of what they had already used. That is not the case. The limit is 99 weeks.

Do benefits have to be taken consecutively? No. If you were unemployed for a while, then found a job and stopped taking unemployment benefits but got laid off from the second job, you can get unemployment benefits again. If, for example, you used up 40 weeks of unemployment during your first layoff, Rivara said, you have 59 weeks of unemployment to use up if you remain unemployed that long.

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