Losing a job is never easy. This is especially true if it caught you by surprise or you received little (or no) severance pay from your former employer. Thankfully, unemployment insurance is designed to help alleviate your immediate financial concerns while you look for another job. The pandemic has caused a massive amount of economic turmoil. It resulted in mass layoffs and a huge spike in the number of people applying for unemployment across the country. In fact, over 57 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits since March 2020, with over one million claims every week. Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Unemployment Insurance?
If you have lost a job through no fault of your own, you may be eligible to receive monetary benefits for a specific period (or until you get a new job). These benefits are provided by state unemployment insurance programs, based on laws established by the Federal government. Each state determines its own eligibility requirements, amount of benefits, and length of time that the benefits can be paid.
The amount of benefits paid to an qualifying applicant can vary significantly between states. The size of the payments largely depend on your prior wages. However, every state uses a slightly different formula to determine the exact financial benefit an unemployed worker will receive. If you’ve recently become unemployed, you should contact your state unemployment insurance office as soon as possible. Waiting will only increase your financial stress.
Eligibility For Unemployment Insurance
The primary requirement to claim unemployment benefits in most states is that you must have worked for a specific period and lost your job through a layoff, furlough, or other circumstances that are beyond your control. You typically cannot collect unemployment benefits if you have voluntarily resigned from your job.
While the application procedure varies from state-to-state, the overall eligibility requirements are all very similar. Typically, your employer must have contributed a portion of your paycheck to your state’s unemployment fund. However, most states relaxed their requirements during the current pandemic situation to include self-employed workers and workers who were quarantined or unable to work due to the risk of exposure.
To qualify for unemployment benefits, the U.S. Department of Labor requires applicants to meet these eligibility requirements:
- You are unemployed due to reasons beyond your control, such as mass layoffs or furlough;
- You meet the state’s requirement for wages or time worked during the state’s established period (usually the first four of the previous five completed quarters);
- And you meet any additional state requirements for unemployment.
How to File Unemployment Benefits Online
Depending on your state, you can file unemployment insurance claims in person, online, or over the phone. For example, New York and California allow unemployed workers to file claims online. Other states may require a phone call or some old-fashioned paperwork that you send off in the mail.
If you’re unsure where to start, check your state’s unemployment website for information on how to apply for unemployment benefits. Follow these steps to claim your benefits:
- Search for “[State Name] Unemployment Office” via an online search engine to locate your state’s unemployment insurance office website.
- On the website, create a username and a unique password for your account. Use your details to access the account and file a claim.
- Follow the on-screen instructions for filing in your state and submit the required documents.
- Once you’ve finished filing a claim, you will receive a confirmation email when your application is processed.
What You Need to Apply for Unemployment
Every state has different requirements. As such, you should check your state’s website to get the most recent and accurate information on what documents you need to claim unemployment benefits.
Generally, here is what you need to file for unemployment:
- Social Security Number.
- Your mailing address.
- An Alien Registration card number (for non-U.S. citizens).
- Driver’s license (or other state ID).
- Details of your employment for the last two years.
- Hourly, weekly, or monthly wages earned, depending on how you were paid.
- Employer Registration Number or Federal Employer Identification Number of your most recent employer.
- A copy of separation form i.e. DD 214 Form (active service or ex-service members).
- Reason for leaving employment.
After making the first claim, you must renew your claim every week (or biweekly) to continue receiving the benefits. You may also be responsible for terminating the benefits when you find new work.
How Much Will I Receive?
If you meet the eligibility requirements for your state, you will receive some temporary compensation. It typically totals about half of your lost income, up to a maximum amount. You may still be eligible for benefits even if you didn’t lose your job completely. If you’ve suffered a serious reduction in payable hours worked (through no fault of your own), you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits to help make up the difference. However, you won’t receive the full benefits.
The average unemployment payment is about $380 per week. You will receive the weekly or biweekly benefits via direct deposit, debit card, or through a mailed check. Once you’ve filed a claim, you will be able to review your claim and select an option for payments.
Filing for Weekly Unemployment Benefits
When you claim unemployment benefits, the effective date is the day you are eligible to start receiving said benefits. From here, the state determines the number of weeks you are eligible to receive benefits. Typically, most states offer benefits for about 26 weeks (roughly six months). However, this period can be lower or higher depending on the state. The pandemic also saw some states create new extensions on their old unemployment periods, so make sure you have the most current information for your jurisdiction.
After you’ve received the first payment, you must log into your account ever week. Once logged in, you need to check on the status of your claim and file for benefits for each week you are eligible. The state will not automatically make payments unless you file for weekly benefits. Also, you are required to be actively looking for work (and be willing to work) during the period when you are receiving compensation.
Are Unemployment Benefits Taxed?
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers unemployment benefits as taxable income. Therefore, it is subject to federal income taxes at your tax bracket rate. Keep all your filing paperwork. It will make it easier when it comes time to file your federal income tax return. You will receive a Form 1099-G, which is sent to everyone who received income from a government source.
When receiving a payment, you may request the state unemployment office withhold part of the payments for income taxes. While some states may automatically withhold a percentage of your check for state and federal taxes, you must always report the income in your tax return.
The Bottom Line
Unemployment insurance is available to almost any worker who has lost their job for reasons beyond their control. However, you can’t fully rely on it for long-term financial support. The amount you are paid is normally about half of your previous income and the benefits will only last for about six months. Although unemployment insurance can help ease the financial burdens you face after a job loss, you still need to actively searching for new employment.