A general guide to unemployment benefits

Last updated: July 11, 2024
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Elyssa Duncan
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A general guide to unemployment benefits
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Here’s a quick overview of how to get unemployment benefits, and what to expect from them.

Unemployment insurance is administered by each state, and each state has its own rules about eligibility. In general, people who worked a minimum number of hours the previous year can get unemployment payments if they lose their job through no fault of their own. Be sure to check with your state’s unemployment website to confirm the number of hours needed to work to ensure your eligibility and get the most out of unemployment. To continue eligibility, you must be able and willing to work, by agreeing to those conditions on your weekly claim.

How do you get unemployment benefits?

You must apply for unemployment on your own, as your former employer will not do it for you. Here’s how to find information on applying for benefits in your state:

  • Go to your state’s unemployment website

Each state calls its unemployment department by its own name; some examples include: Employment Security Department, Employment Development Department, Department of Labor & Employment, etc. You can find your state’s unemployment office’s website in our Unemployment Resource Center here on Jobcase!

On each state’s site you’ll find a link that lists eligibility requirements (remember, each state will be different in their requirements). If you think you meet the standards, you can then fill out the online application. Some states do phone applications, but online is more reliable. Note: navigating the online unemployment line can be frustrating, so be sure to take a deep breath and come prepared with everything you need the FIRST time!

  • What you need to file a claim

    • Social Security Number
    • Alien Registration Card (if you're not a U.S. citizen)
    • Driver's license or State ID card number
    • Mailing address, including zip code
    • Phone number
    • Names, addresses, and dates of employment for all employers for the last two years
  • What happens after you file an unemployment claim?

The unemployment department will verify the claim with the last employer. Then it will take a couple of weeks for initial claims to be processed, and for you to receive your first payment, either by debit card (through U.S. mail) or direct deposit to your bank account.

You will need to file a weekly claim as long as you remain unemployed, and verify that you’re actively looking for work. You’ll continue to receive benefits until they run out or you start a new job.

How long do unemployment benefits last?

Most states limit unemployment insurance payments to 26 weeks, or 6 months. Here are states with exceptions:

  • Arkansas – 20 weeks
  • Florida – 12 weeks
  • Georgia – 14 weeks
  • Idaho – 20 weeks
  • Kansas – 16 weeks
  • Michigan – 20 weeks
  • Missouri – 13 weeks
  • Montana – 28 weeks
  • North Carolina – 12 weeks
  • South Carolina – 20 weeks

What federal programs increase unemployment payments?

The response to COVID-19 has added more complexity to the unemployment picture. In 2020, the federal government enacted a few temporary economic relief programs. Payments are still made through your state unemployment department.

  • CARES Act Stimulus Payment One-time economic stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per person were sent to taxpayers, based on 2019 income, regardless of employment status. (As of November 2020, Congress is negotiating a possible additional payment.)

  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) provides 13 weeks of extended unemployment payments, once your regular state payments expire. You must apply for these through your state’s unemployment insurance office. (At this time, PEUC extended benefits expire on December 26, 2020.)

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) is an emergency program established by the CARES Act to provide an additional $600 per week to individuals who are collecting regular unemployment because of COVID-19. (Unless the program is extended, FPUC benefit payments will end after July 31, 2020.)

Will a temporary job affect my unemployment benefits?

Yes, a temporary job will affect your benefits, but it doesn’t cut you off. Claim your temporary work – whether it’s casual labor like helping a friend move, or a short-term contract job – when you file your weekly claim. The unemployment office reviews claims weekly, and depending on how much you earned, your weekly unemployment payment may be reduced. Again, because each state is different, check with your state to understand exactly how temporary work can impact unemployment benefits.

It’s important to note, however, that if you work a temporary job, your benefits will pick up after your temporary gig – as long as you continue to file weekly claims.

Unemployment assistance is welcome relief in a tough job market, and it’s important to know how long your unemployment benefits will last. To get the most out of your benefits, file your claim in a timely manner, and be aware of additional federal money you could be eligible for.



Geo. Welland
Bullet point
Self Employed

GOOGLE THE NAME OF YOUR STATE & THE WORDS "UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE" (UI) ... OR BETTER, DO THAT SEARCH ON FACEBOOK! You'll need to find a local group exchanging information and war stories while you're on hold on the phone waiting to get through to your state's UI office. The main stream media and corporate websites will NOT tell you the truth. Good luck ya' all, - Geo.

Brenda Zepeda
Bullet point

How do they back track. I barely was approved, unemployed 2months.??