4 Tips for Understanding and Applying for Unemployment Benefits
The prospect of unemployment is always scary but often arises from factors we can't control. States understand that fact, which is why they offer unemployment insurance.
Each state’s policies and procedures for approving unemployment benefits are different from the next. Furthermore, certain federal benefits are currently in play due to the hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic, including steep increases in unemployment and business closures.
All of this can make the process daunting. Here are four suggestions to help you understand the application, requirements, and realities of unemployment insurance—during both "normal” times and our current coronavirus climate.
1. Know your state’s requirements for unemployment insurance
Every state in the country administers its unemployment insurance program. Eligibility requirements and payouts differ from state to state: whether you can file on the phone, how long you have to file, reasons you’re not currently working, and so forth. Every state posts its unemployment insurance policies and requirements online, so check them out before you start building your case.
Remember to look up the policies for the state where you work, not where you live—for example, if you live in Connecticut but work in New York City, you’ll be dealing with New York State’s unemployment agency. Also, double-check your eligibility for CARES benefits during the COVID-19 crisis. Even if you don’t qualify for payouts under your state’s unemployment insurance program, you may still get benefits from this federal program in 2020. That’s another good reason to cover all the bases in your research.
2. Get your paperwork together — lots of it
Whenever you’re representing yourself in any dealings with a government agency—local, state, or federal—it’s always advisable to have as much paperwork on your behalf as you possibly can. This is especially true when filing for unemployment benefits.
You’ll undoubtedly need a complete list of your places of employment, their addresses and contact information, past supervisors’ names, their contact information, and personal details like your Social Security number. If you're in doubt about something that may or may not impact your unemployment benefits, have it ready even if you don't present it to the agency.
3. Calculate your potential benefits
Money is one of those topics about which surprise is usually not welcome. Especially given the various qualifications for unemployment insurance across the United States, it’s best to know—as much as possible—how much compensation you’ll qualify for ahead of time.
Each state outlines their benefit calculations online. They should also provide you with a do-it-yourself calculator so you can figure out your projected benefits fairly automatically. During the COVID-19 crisis, make sure to include your potential payouts under the CARES initiative.
After calculating your benefits, it's always a good idea to sketch out your budget during the time you receive unemployment insurance. Remember, too, that unemployment insurance payouts are taxable, so account for sums of money withheld for that purpose.
4. Keep looking for work
In normal times, a major prerequisite for continuing to receive unemployment insurance benefits is your continuing to search for a job. Depending on the state, you may be required to keep a job search log or enter a minimum amount of job applications per a given period. Regardless of what proof the state wants, keep applying as a matter of routine, and maintain records of each application you submit. The agencies must be assured that you're proactively looking to find a new job and that you'll accept any offer for a position you're qualified for.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many states are temporarily waiving or amending the job search requirement. Check with your state agency to verify what these changes are and how long they’re in effect.