Your Guide to Unemployment Benefits

It’s never easy to lose your job, especially if it wasn’t your fault. When you lose your job, your income decreases, making paying bills quite challenging. Since the government knows that individuals can face this challenge in life, they decided to do something about it. Which is why they have a number of assistance options for those that qualify. This includes Unemployment Insurance (UI), also known as unemployment assistance, and unemployment benefits.

How Does Unemployment Insurance (UI) Work?

Contrary to what many people may think, Unemployment Insurance (UI) is not a national program. Rather, this program is a state-provided type of insurance. The state governments and the federal government (through the United States Department of Labor [DOL]) work together to provide this insurance. When someone loses their job and also meets certain eligibility requirements, the UI supports them by giving them money each week.

Because this is a state-provided assistance program, the specific program will differ based on the state. As a result, the program specifics like employment and wage criteria will vary depending on the state you apply in. That being said, the states must follow federal regulations for this program as it is a cooperative effort between the federal government and the states.

What Benefits Does UI Offer?

If a person is eligible for this program, they may receive benefits for up to 26 weeks in a single year. Nevertheless, there is a possibility of extending this timeframe, because some people might be eligible to have their benefits extended. Qualifying participants in this program may receive an additional number of weeks’ worth of unemployment benefits through extended benefits. However, each state will have a different policy regarding extended benefits.

States have set maximum dollar amounts for the number of benefits an individual can receive each week. For instance, the maximum payout in Mississippi is $235 per week, while in New Jersey, the weekly maximum benefit is $713.

What Are the UI Eligibility Requirements?

An individual must fulfill three main requirements to be eligible:

  • It was no fault of their own for their unemployment
  • Meet the state’s standards for earned wages (or time worked) for the selected base period
  • Be able to work, being available to work, and actively looking for work

An individual should submit a UI application if they meet all three conditions. Nonetheless, anyone can submit an application whether or not they believe they might be eligible. This is because submitting an application is the only way to accurately determine eligibility. Applying for UI is free, so it doesn’t hurt to apply even if you get rejected eventually.

How Does the Application Process Go?

To submit an application in the state where you worked, you can either apply in person, over the phone, or online on the website of the state’s unemployment insurance agency. It depends on how your state operates. In general, overall the application process might take two to three weeks (this timeframe includes processing time after you submit your application). If your application gets accepted, you will need to continue submitting reports that confirm your job situation every week or every two weeks. A person must make sure to submit these reports by the deadline to keep their eligibility for UI.

To sum it all up, you must file a claim with the state’s unemployment insurance program if you want to receive benefits. The state will determine how you should apply. You have the option of applying in person, by phone, or online. The sooner you submit your claim, the better, especially since it costs nothing. Generally, you should file a claim with the state where you were employed. However, if you worked in multiple states, you should get in touch with the state’s unemployment insurance office where you currently live for more details.

On your application, you will need to provide information about your previous jobs, including the location of your workplace and the dates of those employment. If you want the application process to go as smoothly as possible, make sure to provide accurate and thorough information.

Why Would an Application Get Rejected?

It is possible that your application may get rejected for a number of reasons. The following are some typical reasons why an application is rejected:

  • Leaving a job voluntarily and without a strong reason
  • If you are unable or unavailable for work
  • The applicant is not looking for work right now
  • Someone who declines a job offer that would be a good fit for their situation
  • Applications with misleading information

Even though you were denied, you still have options if you disagree with the decision. Instead, you are free to submit an appeal. Just remember that you must submit your appeal within a specific timeframe.

What Other Types of Unemployment Support Can You Benefit From?

People may not be aware that there are many types of unemployment insurance that could be a better fit for their particular scenario, such as:

  • Self-Employment Assistance (SEA)
  • Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)

What is the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) Program?

Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) is a program that aims to support and encourage workers to create their own jobs by launching small businesses. As a result, it provides qualifying dislocated employees with the opportunity for early re-employment thanks to self-employment. States that run this program may replace the weekly UI benefits with a weekly SEA allowance to help workers start their businesses. 

It is important to note that this program is not available in all states. Instead, you can get assistance from the SEA program only in the following states:

  • New York
  • Delaware
  • Oregon
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire

This list might change, though. To see what is available in your state, you should get in touch with the UI agency in your state. Moreover, a person must first meet the requirements for standard UI under their state’s regulations to be eligible for SEA benefits. Those who meet the requirements for this program must engage in self-employment activities on a full-time basis in accordance with the rules established by the program. These activities may include the following:

  • Business counseling
  • Creating business plans
  • Entrepreneurship training programs

What is the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) Program?

The Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program is a source of temporary unemployment support. It has the objective of helping those who lost their jobs or got their employment interrupted due to a natural disaster. You have to be ineligible for the regular UI benefits to qualify for this program. As a result, the state’s UI agency will first determine whether a person qualifies for standard UI benefits before determining whether they qualify for DUA benefits. 

Working together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Labor (DOL), this program is available to people coping with the consequences of a disaster as a way to help with their unemployment situation. This program does not cover all types of disasters. Instead, there must be a “major disaster” which includes any natural disaster or some other type of emergency. Some examples of natural disasters may include:

  • Tornadoes
  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Hurricanes

Other types of emergencies can be explosions or natural gas leaks, for example. No matter what kind of disaster it is, it must lead to a presidential declaration of the disaster. This declaration is essential since it is only made after it has been confirmed that cities will require federal assistance to deal with the consequences. For this reason, DUA can only be available when the presidential declaration specifically states that the program is a part of individual aid support.

Who is Eligible for DUA?

Individuals must fulfill at least one of the following requirements to be eligible for DUA:

  • Have been out of work for at least one week since the natural disaster began.
  • Have a start date arranged but the opportunity is not available anymore.
  • Be unable to reach their workplace.
  • Having an injury as a direct result of the disaster which prevents them from working.
  • Became the household’s main source of support after the head of the household passed away as a direct result of the disaster.

In addition to fulfilling at least one of those requirements, people also need to:

  • Be ineligible for standard UI.
  • Deal with unemployment as a direct consequence of the disaster.
  • Have the ability to work, unless they are suffering from an injury due to the disaster.
  • Are available for work, unless they are suffering from an injury because of the disaster.
  • Not turn down good job offers
  • Have submitted a DUA application within 30 days after the program’s public release.

Bottom Line

Your world might seem to be collapsing around you when you lose your job. However, you should know that there are multiple opportunities for assistance. Federal and state governments work together on the standard Unemployment Insurance (UI) program. This means that even though each state will have a different program, they all need to follow federal rules. 

Other than traditional unemployment benefits, there are support opportunities that may be a better fit for your situation such as Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) and Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). You should get in touch with the unemployment insurance office in your state if you want further details or to start the application process for any of the above-mentioned options.