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Each state manages and distributes its unemployment insurance benefits through its labor commission. The state labor commission determines how much you will receive in payments based on how much you made in the 15 months before you filed unemployment. Then they apply the state minimums and maximum guidelines to that figure. Later, when your state unemployment benefits run out, you may qualify for a federal unemployment extension, extending your payments even longer.
More than any other factor, your previous wages determine how much you will receive in unemployment. Most states count back through the last five calendar quarters before you filed your unemployment claim. The first four quarters are your base year. All of your reported wages during the base year help the unemployment commission determine how much you will receive per week and the most you can collect throughout your time on unemployment. In most states, your weekly benefit amount will be about half of what you made on average for a weekly salary during that base year.
In addition to using your personal salary history, the state unemployment commission sets a minimum amount you can receive through unemployment benefits. This helps those who meet the eligibility requirements yet did not make very much money during their base period. This can happen if you worked sporadically during your base year. State minimums vary by state, but on average it is about $50 per week. If half of your base year average weekly salary is less than the state minimum, the unemployment commission will adjust your payment to meet the minimum payment amount.
Each state also sets its own maximum for unemployment payments. This is to prevent those who made very large salaries during their base year from collecting thousands of dollars in weekly unemployment payments. Although some claimants see this as a bad thing, it is actually the state’s way of making sure that there is enough money to go around for everyone. Although the maximum payments may vary by state, most of the maximums are between $300 and $500 a week. If your base period salary entitles you to more than state maximums, the labor commission will adjust it down to the maximum.
Federal unemployment extensions are separate from state unemployment insurance. Although the state still distributes federal payment extensions, these payments kick in after you have exhausted your state unemployment benefits. How much and low long you can collect on a federal extension depends on what the current federal laws are at the time. Some states automatically enroll you in the federal extensions after your state benefits run out while others require a new application.
Michaele Curtis began writing professionally in 2001. As a freelance writer for the Centers for Disease Control, Nationwide Insurance and AT&T Interactive, her work has appeared in "Insurance Today," "Mobiles and PDAs" and "Curve Magazine." Curtis holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Louisiana State University.