If you’re unemployed, you may be eligible for benefits. Unemployment benefits come under the jurisdiction of individual states. Each state has its own set of regulations for calculating benefits and determining eligibility. However, similarities exist in most states. State agencies look at your recent work history and earnings over a stretch of time to determine whether you are eligible for benefits and how much you can receive. Unemployment benefits are not meant to replace your full salary. Unemployment is considered earned income, and you have to pay taxes on what you receive.
About Different Benefits
Unemployment insurance is a joint program in which both the federal government and the states participate. States set an upper limit on benefits. Typically, you can receive up to half of what you used to earn. The more you have earned in the base period, the higher your benefits, up to a maximum calculated on the average earnings in the state. In some states, people with dependents can receive an additional benefit. The benefit is usually small, according to legal website Nolo.com -- approximately $25 or less per dependent per week.
The Base Period
Most states calculate unemployment benefits on what is called a base period. The base period is typically a one-year period, or the earliest four of the past five complete quarters of the calendar year. For example, if you apply in March 2015, the base period would be Oct. 1, 2013, through Sept. 30, 2014. In many states, workers who don’t have enough hours in the base period to qualify can obtain benefits by using an alternative base period that includes the past four calendar quarters. If you have been out of work for an extended period due to a job-related illness, injury or disability, you may qualify for an extended base period that includes your hours and earnings prior to the injury.
Work and Earnings Requirements
In some states, you must have worked in at least two of the four quarters to be eligible for unemployment benefits. Most states, however, require that you earned some money instead of or in addition to the work requirement. Depending on the state, you may be required to earn a certain amount or a certain percentage of the weekly benefit you would receive while on unemployment. Other states require that you earn a set amount during the highest-paid of the quarters in the base period. Some states combine methods.
Although unemployment benefits once lasted only 26 weeks or less, extension programs were created to decrease hardship for those who have been unable to find work. Ongoing poor economic conditions have resulted in several federal extensions of unemployment benefits for those out of work for an extended period. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program is a federal program for the long-term unemployed. The Extended Benefits Program is a different joint federal-state program, available to states where the unemployment rate exceeds a minimum threshold.
Other Unemployment Issues
To receive benefits, you must be out of work through no fault of your own and your situation must be temporary. If you retire, you are not eligible for unemployment benefits. If you quit voluntarily, you may not be eligible for benefits. Some states offer websites that allow you to estimate your unemployment benefits. However, many factors can affect your benefits. If you find part-time or temporary work while on unemployment, you must report your earnings to the state and your unemployment may be reduced by the amount your have earned. Calculating unemployment benefits is complex and varies by state. If you have questions, consult your state department of labor.
- Nolo.com: Unemployment Benefits: How Much Will You Get -- and For How Long?
- Nolo.com: Unemployment Compensation: Understanding the Base Period
- State of California Employment Development Department: FAQ - Eligibility
- United States Department of Labor: Unemployment Benefit Estimation Tools
- World Health Organization. "Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (COVID-19)." Accessed April 7, 2020.
- Congress.gov. "H.R. 748—CARES Act." Accessed April 7, 2020.
- United States Department of Labor. "UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE PROGRAM LETTER NO. 15-20." Accessed July 1, 2020.
- Whitehouse. "Memorandum on Authorizing the Other Needs Assistance Program for Major Disaster Declarations Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019." Accessed Sep. 8, 2020.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.