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When you lose your job, your first concern is likely to be the effect the lost wages will have on your budget. Unemployment compensation is designed to help those who’ve lost their jobs by temporarily replacing some of those wages while they look for new work. Because unemployment isn’t designed to be a permanent source of income for those who are out of work, there are rules about how long you will receive the benefits, as well as what you need to do to qualify for unemployment and maintain your benefits.
Basic Unemployment Guidelines
Generally speaking, unemployment benefits last for 26 weeks. However, some states allow unemployment benefits for more or less time. Massachusetts bases the unemployment maximum on the availability of a federally funded emergency unemployment compensation program. When such a program is available (not currently, as of 2018), the maximum is 30 weeks; otherwise, the maximum is 26 weeks. Montana provides up to 28 weeks of compensation, while Arkansas, Michigan and South Carolina each offer 20. Missouri offers 13 weeks of unemployment.
Some states adjust the length of unemployment compensation based on current market conditions and changes in the state’s unemployment rate. As of 2018, Florida and North Carolina each provide up to 12 weeks of unemployment, for example, while Georgia and Kansas offer 14 and 16 weeks, respectively. Kansas will pay unemployment for up to 16 weeks, while Idaho will pay for 20 weeks.
Unemployment Benefit Extensions
When unemployment rates are high, states may be able to offer extended benefits via federal programs. The Extended Benefits (EB) program extends unemployment benefits from 13 to 20 weeks in areas where the unemployment rate has changed dramatically, whether the entire country is experiencing those changes or not. The last time this federal funding was in effect was from 2008 to 2013, under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. That program expired, and has not been refunded. That being said, some states have extended compensation programs in place, and certain beneficiaries do qualify for unemployment for longer than the standard limits. If you qualify for one of these extended program, you will be notified by your state.
Individual Benefit Periods
Although states have maximum limits on how long you receive unemployment compensation, that does not mean you will automatically qualify to receive payments for that entire period. Most states will calculate your benefit period based on your work history, including your earnings, whether you earned income for all quarters that determine your base pay and how evenly your pay was distributed over those quarters. If you worked for the same employer for several years and earned about the same amount every pay period, then you’ll most likely qualify for benefits for the full eligibility period. If you have a brief work history and uneven payments, your eligibility period will be shorter.
Ongoing Eligibility Requirements
Once you begin receiving unemployment benefits, you’re required to meet ongoing eligibility requirements. State rules vary, but this generally means looking for work, documenting your efforts and reporting them to the state. Some states may also require individuals to participate in certain workforce development or reentry programs, or specifically request benefits for the pay period. To receive Texas unemployment benefits, for instance, you must submit a payment request by phone or online every two weeks. Within this request, you must report on your employment search activities for that period. California unemployment pay has similar rules. Beneficiaries must use a system called EDD Tele-Cert to certify they looked for work during the period. In all states, your benefits will end once you find a new job.
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An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.