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Unemployment benefits are designed to be a stopgap measure to help you make ends meet while you look for a new job, not a long-term replacement for your lost wages. As such, you’ll eventually exhaust your benefits, and won’t be able to receive additional benefits until you qualify again. While your state laws determine the specifics of unemployment benefits in your area, you may need to wait up to a year to meet eligibility requirements.
Most states institute a benefit year, a yearlong period in which you may only receive a fixed amount of benefits. Your benefit year starts the date you receive benefits, and runs for 52 weeks. Your maximum benefit amount determined when you made your initial claim limits the amount you may receive during this benefit year. Once you exhaust your benefits, either through one long bout of unemployment or several shorter ones, you can’t receive additional benefits until your benefit year ends, at which point you may apply for benefits again.
At the start of your next benefit year, you may not qualify for additional benefits if you haven’t worked for a year. Although the calculations vary between states, employment agencies consider your earnings over a base period, which is usually the first four of the previous five completed calendar quarters. You’ll need to have earnings in a minimum number of quarters, earn a minimum amount of wages over the base period or make a portion of the minimum benefit amount to qualify for additional benefits depending upon your state’s laws. If you haven’t worked during your benefit year and base period, it’s likely you won’t qualify for more benefits.
If you do qualify for benefits again after your benefit year expires, your benefit is likely to be much smaller the second time around. States use their own formulas to determine your benefit, but all base the amount on your past earnings. If you have enough wages to qualify, but aren’t employed consistently, your base period earnings are likely to be lower than they were when you were fully employed and received your first round of benefits. Because of this, your benefit will be adjusted to match your decreased earnings.
If you’re close to exhausting your normal benefits, you may qualify for extended benefits. States with high unemployment rates may qualify to receive extended benefits -- not to be confused with temporary emergency unemployment compensation measures authorized by Congress following the 2009 recession -- and provide job hunters with an extension of benefits to find a new job. These extensions provide 13 to 20 weeks of additional benefits, depending on your state’s program. You’ll typically be notified by your unemployment agency if you qualify for extended benefits and how to apply when you exhaust your normal benefits.
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Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.