How to File for Unemployment Benefits
Have you been rendered jobless and are now wondering what next?
Life without a source of income can be difficult. Things get even more difficult if you have a family to provide for. In such cases, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable.
For the children, they may not be able to understand the situation. They see you at home and really like your company, but when hunger strikes, they cry for their favorite foods.
For the elderly, it’s often an issue of health care.
You need to give them the right kind of food for their medication or buy them expensive supplements. Although they’re in a better position to understand the situation, the health challenge can cause an increase in stress levels.
Such situations can even affect your chances of landing another job. And in the event of widespread unemployment, like that caused by a recession, even recognizing alternative opportunities can become hard.
Fortunately, there is a government solution to cushion you from such challenges.
Although the solution doesn’t take care of all that you might have wanted done, it provides a means of survival. What you may need to do on your end is change your lifestyle accordingly so as to be able to fit within the new budget.
The solution from the government is commonly referred to as unemployment benefits. It’s also called unemployment insurance.
WHAT ARE UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS?
Unemployment benefits are the payments you get from the government as a cover during times of unemployment. They’re meant to provide temporary financial assistance to you if you have become unemployed through no fault of your own.
Being unemployed through “no fault of your own” is a key eligibility condition and in case you got fired due to something wrong you did, then you can’t get these benefits.
And how much is the pay?
In most cases, you can get paid up to half of what you used to earn in your employment. This is subject to the maximum amount you can get as required by the law in your state.
To get the benefits, you need to apply. The moment you’re notified of being unemployed, you should immediately apply for the benefits.
But just because you can apply for them doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed that you’ll be paid. You have to pass the eligibility test. If you don’t, it means that you don’t qualify and therefore can’t get any money from the government to cover your unemployment period.
Are you eligible for unemployment benefits?
Unemployment benefits are a government-funded program whose funds come from unemployment insurance taxes paid by employers. The federal government works together with the state governments to ensure that as many as those who qualify for the benefits get it.
The general guidelines for the program are provided by the federal government. The final list of requirements and procedures are however defined by the state government. As such, every state has its own set of requirements and they often differ from others.
The best way to find out whether you’re eligible is to contact your state’s unemployment insurance agency. With every state running the program differently, their specific unemployment insurance agency websites or offices are the best places to visit.
Generally speaking, here are two main requirements you must meet.
- You must meet the requirement of base period – this is the time worked during an established period of time. The established period of time is usually, the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the time you move to file your unemployment claim.
- Your unemployment must be due to no fault of your own. This might be defined differently among states but basically, it means that you should not have caused your own unemployment. If you caused your unemployment, automatically you fail the eligibility test.
HOW TO FILE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
As already mentioned, state laws determine how the unemployment insurance program works. The federal government only gives guidelines. As such, the actual process of filing for unemployment benefits will be determined by your state laws.
In most cases, the process is usually the same, with minimal differences. Here’s how to go about filing for unemployment.
1. Contact your state’s unemployment insurance agency
The first thing you should do is get in touch with the unemployment insurance agency in your state. This is the state agency that will be processing your claim to confirm whether you’re really eligible for the benefits.
Whereas the agency’s office or website can give you the list of requirements and you can know whether you qualify or not, the agency will still have to do it’s own review of your application. The process of verifying your eligibility will also include contacting your now-former employer to find out the cause of your unemployment.
If you became jobless due to something like downsizing, harassment, family reasons and the like, your claim is likely to be accepted. On the other hand, quitting for a career change, getting fired because of low performance or other misconduct, that will expressly bar you from getting the benefits.
2. Make an application
Having verified your eligibility, it’s time to make the actual application. This can be done over the phone, through mail or online. For convenience, applying online is a better option.
Take note however that in times of high unemployment, making your application online can become challenging.
For example, with the Covid-19 pandemic which caused 36.5 million unemployment claims by May 2020, unemployment benefits websites were reported to crash due to the spike in traffic.
In your application, you’ll be required to provide all the vital information necessary to process your claim. This will typically include:
- Your full name
- Your social security number
- Former employer’s details e.g. location and contact number
- Reason for being unemployed
- Payment expected to be received from the employer
- Your availability and willingness to work (if an opportunity arises)
These and other pieces of information will be required for your claim to be processed. It is this information that will help determine your qualification for the benefits.
3. Prepare for a phone interview
As already mentioned, the unemployment benefits agency can’t just grant your claim simply because you made the application and believe that you’re eligible. The agency will do it’s own review of the application and even conduct an investigation of some sort.
One of the things they will do is contact you for a phone interview. The interview will be used to find out more about your situation. Whatever you say during the phone interview must be in line with what you filled in your application.
Still as part of the processing, your former employer will be contacted so as to verify the information on your claim. Whatever you have written must agree with what your former employer says.
Here, things can get tricky in case the employer gives a different explanation as to why you were rendered jobless. If the employer shows that your claim has incorrect information, then your claim could end up being rejected.
Don’t worry though, you can appeal the decision if you believe you’re rightly eligible.
4. Wait for the ruling
After applying, you’ll have to wait for around two weeks so as to know the fate of your application. Depending on the laws in your state or even the workload in the event of a major unemployment crisis, you might wait for longer than this.
The interview mentioned above is one of the things that can show you the path your application is taking. The more the issues surrounding your claim, the more likely you might wait.
Generally though, two weeks are all you need to wait. To confirm the actual wait duration, just check your state’s unemployment agency’s website.
5. Appeal the ruling if your claim is not granted
It’s possible that your reason for unemployment may differ from that given by the employer. It’s also possible that you probably got unemployed through no fault of your own but other requirements still remain unmet.
In such a case, your claim might be rejected. This means that you’ll not be getting the unemployment benefits. However, as is the case with any ruling, you always have an opportunity to appeal.
If you decide to appeal the decision, then you have to consult your state laws for directions about appealing.
In your appeal, you’ll be allowed to present evidence showing that you’re eligible for the benefits. Your former employer will also be allowed to attend and present his side of the story. He’ll also be given the chance to present his evidence as to why he thinks you shouldn’t be granted the benefits.
This can be a real legal battle between yourself and your former employer. You may find yourself requiring to line up witnesses who will support your claims. The employer will also have the opportunity to do the same.
After listening to your appeal and considering what the employer says, a new ruling on your application will be made.
6. File weekly or biweekly claims for continued eligibility
If your application goes through and the claim is granted, then you’ll start getting a paycheck from the government as per the state laws. This however is not the end of the process. You need to keep filing weekly or biweekly claims in order to continue receiving the paycheck.
This is called continued eligibility. It ensures that you’re still in the program so that you don’t miss out on any payments when you’re still eligible for more.
Note that throughout the period of earning the benefits, you must continue meeting the eligibility requirements.
You should also report any earnings you get from any work done during the week(s) as well as job offers you get.
Unless your state laws require otherwise, you will normally file these claims via mail or telephone.
In everything you do, make sure that you follow the direct instructions given by your state’s unemployment insurance agency.
7. Continue job searching
Since becoming jobless doesn’t mean that you can’t work, you’re required to look for another job. And this requirement isn’t a suggestion given to you but a requirement for continued eligibility.
The unemployment insurance benefits program isn’t designed to support you throughout your life. It’s meant to support you as you look for another job. It’s expected that before the period of earning benefits is over, you’ll have gotten another job.
This way, the program can continue supporting those needing the help most.
As an eligibility requirement, you must show that you’ve been hunting for jobs in your weekly/biweekly claims. Failing to do this can lead to the suspension or denial of further benefits.
Depending on your state laws, you might have a minimum number of jobs you should prove to have applied for. In case you get any job offers which you turn down, you’ll be required to give the reason for that.
Your state can also help you with job searching. In some states, you might be required to register with the state employment service. This is to assist you in finding a new job. In case this is not a requirement in your state, you can still go ahead and seek their help in getting a new job.
There’s a lot of help you can get from the state employment service. You can get testing and counseling from them to determine which jobs you’re able to do. They can also refer you to training programs which may help you get re-employed faster.
OTHER TYPES OF BENEFITS AND PROGRAMS FOR THE UNEMPLOYED
Apart from the financial assistance during the time of joblessness, there are other types of benefits you can get from the government. This assistance is made available to help you get back on your feet as fast as possible.
Here are two of such.
1. Educational help
This type of benefit helps you grow your skills by taking you through relevant courses. The courses will include both theory and practical as necessary for your development. After taking any of such courses, you’ll have improved your skillset and thus stand higher chances of getting a job.
Considering that you’re unemployed and obviously without much money to spend, these courses are generally free or low cost for those who are unemployed.
To find out whether you qualify for any of the programs, contact your local American Job Center.
Here are some of the programs available for you if you’re unemployed.
2. Self-employment help
If after getting unemployed you decide to become an entrepreneur, this is the kind of assistance you cannot ignore.
Although the program works quite the same way as the unemployment benefits, one difference is that in this case, you don’t look for wage and salary jobs. You’ll be working full-time on starting and building your business.
These programs are however not available everywhere. You can get them in Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York and Oregon.
TIPS FOR FILING FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
Now that you know how to file for unemployment benefits, let’s share some tips to help you do it faster and correctly.
These tips will help you avoid delays in the processing of your claim while also increasing the chances of your claim being granted.
1. Keep your employment information at hand
One of the issues which come up during claim processing is problems with inaccurate information. If you make your application using inaccurate information, there will certainly be delays in the processing.
This will primarily be caused by the need for a longer verification process.
Note also that inaccurate information can lead to your claim being rejected in its entirety. This will be due to the fact that you might seem not to be eligible—going by the inaccurate information. Probably a worse situation would be coming across as trying to falsify information for the sake of getting the benefits.
That could land you in big problems, apart from not receiving any benefits.
But there’s something more important than these. If there is a time your employment records will come in handy, is when your former employer contests your eligibility.
Yes, that can happen.
Of course there’s the verification step which must be taken but more than that, the benefits come from taxes imposed on the employer.
Normally, employers will contest your claim if you became jobless through a fault of your own. This is in direct contrast to the requirement that you shouldn’t have been responsible in any way for your unemployment.
Should the employer contest your claim and you’re sure you qualify, you may need to prove it. In many cases, this is at the appeal stage after your claim has been rejected.
In case of such an eventuality, for your defense, try and have the following at hand:
- Pay stubs
- Communication from the employer about your work situation (e.g. emails on termination, reduced hours etc. These could be in soft or hard copy)
- Text messages or call records in case there was harassment, especially sexual
- Pictures of closed offices/stores or memo communicating the same
- Any other information you may deem important for a case against your employer
Whereas you may not always end up in a case with your former employer, these pieces of evidence can also help speed up the verification in case the unemployment agency wants to see them.
2. File your claim as soon as possible
Different states may have different rules when it comes to deadlines for filing your claim. It’s very important that you familiarize yourself with those requirements.
All the same, to be on the safe side, just seek to apply as soon as you learn of your job loss.
If for instance your unemployment has been communicated to you while you’re on vacation in a different state, yes, you may not be pleased by that. But instead of waiting till you return then go square it out with the employer, just start by applying for the benefits.
This will save you a lot of time.
3. Apply even if unsure of your eligibility
Along those same lines, you may find that you’re not able to understand all the requirements so as to determine whether you qualify for the benefits or not. Instead of doing more research and asking around, just go ahead and file your claim.
The biggest requirement is usually the reason for unemployment. As long as that is clear—that you didn’t cause it—just go ahead and apply.
Unemployment benefits are a form of financial assistance given for a period of time. As long as you’re able to work, you should look for employment and start working as soon as you’re hired.
Remember to keep any communication records you have and apply soonest possible.
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