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Being out of work can be financially devastating. That's why states created unemployment insurance. While working, employers deduct a portion of every paycheck for unemployment insurance contribution. Employers make a legally required contribution as well. When unfortunate circumstances cause a person to need unemployment, states look at the associated contribution history, including previous wages to determine the total amount of unemployment the person can claim.
When you file an unemployment claim, your state will examine how much you earned in your previous job and how much you and your previous employers have contributed to unemployment during your lifetime. The state will then determine the amount of unemployment insurance to which you are entitled. Caps vary among states with California setting a maximum of $450 per week for up to 26 weeks of full benefits while Massachusetts pays up to $625 per week for up to 30 weeks, as of April 2011. This means that in California, you can receive a maximum of $11,700 per claim and in $18,750.
As you receive unemployment payments, your state will send you statements showing how much you were paid, what amount—if any—was held for taxes, and how much of your total possible claim payout remains. Look for the statement listing "remaining balance" to keep track of this amount. Each week you receive payments, the amount of unemployment benefits still available to you will decrease.
During difficult economic times, state legislatures and Congress may increase benefits or extend the time period over which a claim can be paid. If your unemployment occurred as a result of massive layoffs or during a period of economic downturn, you may notice your remaining balance increases. Check with your state unemployment office to see if this is a result of legal changes to help the unemployed.
Sometimes people run into special hardships and need additional unemployment benefits. Although there are no guarantees, most states accept special requests and appeals for additional unemployment benefits. Check with your state unemployment office for the forms and procedures to make such a request. Have documentation of your circumstances including evidence of your ongoing job search.
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Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.