Qualifying and Applying for Unemployment

The process of applying for unemployment feels daunting when you experience job loss. When you apply, you increase your odds of making it through tough times until you find another position. That relief is essential to your well-being and success.

Rates of unemployment have steadily improved since the Great Recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in the United States is at 3.9 percent as of April 2018. That number accounts for those unemployed currently in the workforce, meaning individuals must either have looked for a job in the last four weeks or been employed for at least an hour a week. What about those with other circumstances preventing them from looking?

You don’t want to become one of those discouraged workers. Many people qualify for unemployment benefits, but fail to apply, or do so with all the wrong information and face delays in receiving their benefits.

 

Qualifying for Unemployment

Anyone can apply, but qualifying for unemployment means fitting the requirements. The Department of Labor specifies you must meet a few simple criteria to prove your eligibility for unemployment.

Your unemployment status must occur due to circumstances outside your control, such as a layoff. Through no fault of your own, your position was terminated. You don’t qualify for unemployment if you quit or got let go due to gross misconduct — that means if you committed dangerous or illegal acts in the workplace. If you stole from your employer and got fired, you won’t get unemployment.

You must meet state requirements for wages earned or time worked. Each state differs. If you worked a steady long-term position, you likely meet the minimum requirements. In New York, you must have received wages and worked for a minimum of two calendar quarters within your base period, and the total in the base period must be one and a half times the high quarter wages you receive. For filed claims in 2018, you must have received $2,200 in one calendar quarter.

Check your state’s requirements to see if you’re qualified to apply for unemployment benefits. Each state differs on what it deems as “no fault of your own,” and the number of weeks of benefits offered to you will also differ.

You must actively search for a new position. So, if you choose to return to school full-time, you cannot collect unemployment benefits. Some states do allow you to receive extra weeks of unemployment benefits if you are seeking and receiving training for a high-demand industry, but you must make satisfactory progress.

Contractors are out of luck when it comes to applying for unemployment benefits, since employers don’t pay unemployment taxes for contract roles.

 

Filing for Unemployment

Applying for unemployment isn’t a universal process, and some states may require you to wait. You would need to remain unemployed for a specific time to collect benefits, as short as a week. The following week you claim — that second week — is the one you receive pay for.

The maximum benefit you’re eligible for varies by state, as do the formulas for benefit calculation. Vacation time and severance pay may also affect when you receive benefits.

Regardless, the sooner you file, the sooner the process begins. Start with contacting your local unemployment agency in your state of past employment and/or residence as your first step. The office will give you instructions on how to apply, a list of required information, how you can collect benefits and other informational resources for assistance.

If you worked and lived in different states, you may be eligible to shop around for the best benefits, but you’ll need to check with each agency to follow the specific rules. You can file your claim online, in person or by phone depending on the requirements of your state. Prevent delays in the process by gathering details about your previous employment in advance. For example, you’ll need the company’s contact information, such as the address, and dates of employment. Make sure all information is accurate.

If your claim gets denied, you have the right to an appeal and hearing. If your claim gets accepted, you must follow the rules. Keep actively searching for work each week for at least as many times as required by your state and report it. If you don’t file each week, you miss out on your benefits.

 

Staying on Track

Your state may require you to file biweekly or weekly, informing them of how many times you searched for a job and to which companies you applied. You must report any part-time work and times you refused work with the reasons why.

It’s easy to fall into a victim mentality during the job search, especially when faced with daunting statistics, such as how only 2 percent of applicants receive an interview. You may not think you’re good enough, since you will face rejection multiple times. You may feel underappreciated and like no one will value your work in the future, either. Stick to your guns and gumption, and challenge those victim myths. You’re a highly capable professional.

Many unemployment agencies have resource centers where you can come in to get assistance with your resume and apply for jobs onsite, with additional training. They may also require you to attend in-person meetings to update them with your job search progress. These agencies also provide referrals for other assistance programs if you need help with food and clothing.

Stay on track with all the requirements, or you risk losing your unemployment benefits. Keep strong records of your job search, and list all required information.

Keep in mind your unemployment benefits are taxable income, and you must report them on your federal return. You can also opt to have your unemployment agency withhold this tax from the beginning.

If a company with a part-time position expresses interest, take on the supplementary income to not waste away the weeks you can collect. You can’t predict how long or how short the job search will last.

It’s best to take the safety net you can make for yourself and have less time to worry about not finding a job. Keeping your mind focused on whatever work you can take will free up mental energy to put toward your job search and well-being.

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Image: Shutterstock / Moopixel

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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