The U.S. Department of Labor has oversight responsibility for the Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs operated in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These states and jurisdictions provide unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own and meet certain other eligibility requirements.
The federal-state unemployment insurance program provides unemployment benefits to eligible workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own (as determined under state law) and meet other eligibility requirements of state law.
• Unemployment insurance payments (benefits) are intended to provide temporary financial assistance to unemployed workers who meet the requirements of state law.
• Each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program within guidelines established by federal law.
• Eligibility for unemployment insurance, benefit amounts, and the length of time benefits are available are determined by the state law under which unemployment insurance claims are established.
• In the majority of states, benefit funding is based solely on a tax imposed on employers (three states require minimal employee contributions).
• The worker must meet the state requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time referred to as a base period. In most states, this is usually the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the time the worker’s claim is filed.
• The worker must be determined to be unemployed through no fault of their own (determined under state law) and meet other eligibility requirements of state law.
Filing a Claim
• The worker should contact the state unemployment insurance agency as soon as possible after becoming unemployed. In some states, the worker can now file a claim by telephone or online.
• When a worker files a claim, they will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of their former employment. To make sure the claim is not delayed, the worker should be sure to give complete and correct information.
• Generally, the worker should file their claim with the state where they worked. If the worker worked in a state other than the one where they now live, or if they worked in multiple states, the state UI agency where the worker now lives can provide information about how to file a claim with other states.
• It generally takes 2-3 weeks after the worker files their claim to receive their first benefit check. Some states require a one-week waiting period; therefore, the second week claimed is the first week of payment, if the worker is otherwise eligible.
• The worker must file weekly or biweekly claims (after the week(s) has ended) and respond to questions concerning their continued eligibility. The worker must report any earnings from work they had during the week(s) and must also report any job offers or refusal of work during the week. These claims are usually filed by mail or telephone; the state will provide filing instructions.
• When directed, the worker must report to their local Unemployment Insurance Claims Office or One-Stop/Employment Service Office on the day and at the time they are scheduled to do so. If the worker fails to report as scheduled for any interview, benefits may be denied.
• The worker must continue to meet the eligibility requirements stated in the previous section.
Registering for Work
• Workers who file for unemployment benefits may be directed to register for work with the State Employment Service, so it can assist them in finding employment. If the worker is not required to register, they still may seek help in finding a job from the Employment Service.
• The One-Stop/Employment Service Office has current labor market information and provides a wide array of re-employment services free of charge.
• Employment Service staff can refer the worker to job openings in their area, or in other parts of the state or country if the worker is willing to relocate.
• The worker may be referred to various training programs.
• If job openings in the worker’s field are limited, state programs may offer testing and counseling to determine other jobs the worker might like to do and be able to do.
• If the worker believes they have special needs or considerations—such as physical needs or other considerations that may prevent the worker from getting a job—the state may refer the worker to other agencies for help with those needs.
Disqualification from Eligibility
If the worker’s separation from their last job is for some reason other than a lack of work, a determination will be made about whether the worker is eligible for benefits.
• Generally, all determinations of whether a worker is eligible for benefits are made by the appropriate state under its law, or applicable federal laws.
• If the worker is disqualified or denied benefits, they have the right to file an appeal. The state will advise the worker of their appeal rights. The worker must file their appeal within an established time frame. The worker’s employer may also appeal a determination if the employer does not agree with the state's determination regarding the worker’s eligibility.
• In general, benefits are based on a percentage of an individual's earnings over a recent 52-week period—up to a state maximum amount.
• Benefits can be paid for a maximum of 26 weeks in most states.
• Additional weeks of benefits may be available during times of high unemployment. Some states provide additional benefits for specific purposes.
• Benefits are subject to federal income taxes and must be reported on the worker’s federal income tax return. The worker may elect to have the tax withheld by the state unemployment insurance agency.