If your unemployment benefits have run out and your prospects of finding a job seem bleak, welfare assistance would be a consideration. Welfare benefits and other aid programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps, are safety-net programs for the long-term unemployed and others who are destitute. However, although unemployment benefits are not especially lucrative, depending on your standard of living, they include significantly more money than welfare benefits.
Although the standard time limit for receiving unemployment benefits is 26 weeks, that window has expanded starting in 2008 and continuing until the end of 2011. Federal emergency funds during that span have allowed recipients of unemployment insurance to receive benefits for 60 weeks in all states and 99 weeks in states with especially high rates of unemployment. If the government does not extend funding, the limit will revert to 26 weeks in 2012.
Eligibility for welfare benefits works in contrast to unemployment benefits. Unlike unemployment insurance, for which higher wages equate to higher benefits, only people with limited financial resources qualify for welfare. In a typical state, your total resources, including money in the bank, could not exceed $2,000 as of 2009. Monthly income limits also vary by state and usually are a percentage of the federal poverty level for a particular household size. Monthly limits for a family of three ranged from $269 in Alabama to more than $1,000 in a handful of states in 2009.
The formula for determining the weekly amount of your unemployment benefits varies by state. It typically is 1/26 of the amount you earned in your highest-earning calendar quarter of employment in a year-long span before your claim. Weekly benefits in some states could exceed $400 if you earned a certain amount, usually $10,000, in your highest-earning quarter. If you qualify for welfare benefits, the amount of assistance is much lower. The benefits arrive monthly, rather than weekly, and in almost no cases exceed $1,000 for a family of three. In some states, they are quite a bit lower.
Just as you have to maintain an active search for work to remain eligible for unemployment benefits, you must do the same when receiving welfare assistance. Federal guidelines for state welfare programs require adult recipients to be working no later than 24 months after starting on benefits. States can grant exemptions to some recipients, such as those with disabilities or serious illnesses, those who care for someone with such a condition and pregnant women. States can reduce your benefits after your first violation of rules relating to work requirements and suspend your benefits for a period of several months or longer after multiple violations.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Policy Basics: How Many Weeks of Unemployment Compensation Are Available?
- U.S. Department of Labor: Emergency Unemployment Compensation 2008 (EUC) Program
- The Urban Institute: Welfare Rules Databook: State TANF Policies as of July 2009; Gretchen Rowe, et al.; August 2010
- U.S. Department of Labor: Comparison of State Unemployment Laws: Monetary Entitlement