Need to Apply for Unemployment Insurance? | No BS Job Search Advice

Need to Apply for Unemployment Insurance?

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Unemployment Insurance is a joint state-federal program that provides cash benefits to eligible workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program, but all states follow the same guidelines established by federal law.

In general, benefits are based on a percentage of your earnings over a recent 52-week period, and each state sets a maximum amount. Benefits are subject to federal and most state income taxes and must be reported on your income tax return. You may choose to have the tax withheld from your payment.

March 2021 update: The March 2021 American Rescue Plan adds extra weeks to unemployment benefit payments:

  • If you’re already receiving unemployment benefits, payments will generally be extended for another 25 weeks, until Sept. 6.
  • The $300 weekly supplemental benefit, which is provided on top of your regular benefit and was scheduled to end in March, remains at $300 but will be paid through Sept. 6.

Learn more about if you might be eligible, or select the state where you worked to apply and learn details of your state’s program. You’ll find website links and/or phone numbers to file and learn more about eligibility, benefits, and other questions you might have.

Find out if you might qualify for unemployment benefits in your state.

Each state sets its own guidelines for eligibility for unemployment benefits, but you usually qualify if you:

  • Are unemployed through no fault of your own. In most states, this means you have to have separated from your last job due to a lack of available work.
  • Meet work and wage requirements. You must meet your state’s 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 that your claim is filed.)
  • Meet additional state requirements. Find details of your own state’s program by selecting your state below.

In March 2020, new federal law greatly expanded unemployment insurance. Many workers who were not previously covered are now eligible. You may now be eligible if any of the following are true:

  • Your employer permanently or temporarily laid you off due to coronavirus measures
  • Your employer reduced your work hours due to coronavirus measures
  • You are self-employed and have lost income due to coronavirus measures
  • You’re quarantined and can’t work due to coronavirus
  • You’re unable to work due to a risk of exposure to coronavirus
  • You can’t work because you’re caring for a family member due to coronavirus

March 2021 update: The March 2021 American Rescue Plan adds extra weeks to unemployment benefit payments:

  • If you’re already receiving unemployment benefits, payments will generally be extended for another 25 weeks, until Sept. 6, 2021.
  • The $300 weekly supplemental benefit, which is provided on top of your regular benefit and was scheduled to end in March, remains at $300 but will be paid through Sept. 6.

Please note that each state implements the above policies within its own Unemployment Insurance program. Since the law has changed so recently, most states have not updated their information yet. But if you are eligible, or think you might be eligible, should apply now, in the state where you worked.

Here’s how to get started applying for unemployment benefits in your state.

Note: COVID-19 / coronavirus update
Most states have made changes to their Unemployment Insurance program in order to provide benefits to more workers affected by COVID-19/Coronavirus. If your state has updated information, you’ll find it when you select your state below.

To receive unemployment benefits, you need to file a claim with the unemployment program in the state where you worked.  In general, you’ll still follow the following guidelines in order to file for unemployment benefits.

  • You should contact your state’s unemployment insurance program as soon as possible after becoming unemployed. Find your state’s program by selecting your state in the box below, and check with them to see if you should file a claim in person, by telephone, or online.
  • Generally, you should file your claim with the state where you worked. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.
  • When you file a claim, you will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment. To make sure your claim is not delayed, be sure to give complete and correct information.
  • It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check. Some states require a one-week waiting period; in other words, you would receive your first payment for the second week of your unemployment claim. Note: in March 2020, most states began waiving the one-week waiting period.

See if you meet your state’s requirements to continue receiving unemployment benefits.

Several states have announced they will “opt-out” of extended federal unemployment benefits as early as June 2021. This applies to the extra $300 that is currently being added to state-level benefits through September 6, 2021. If your state opts out of this program, you can still receive your state-level benefits as long as you remain eligible. See your state’s unemployment insurance program for specific information.

The opt-out might also apply to unemployment benefits for self-employed or gig workers under the special program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. See your state’s unemployment insurance program for updated information about self-employed and gig workers.

You can find details of your own state’s program by selecting your state in the box below, but most states require the following:

  • File weekly or biweekly claims, usually by mail or phone.
  • Report any earnings from work you had during the week(s). States have different rules for how much money you can earn while receiving benefits.
  • Report any job offers or job offers you decline during the week.
  • If requested, report to your local Unemployment Insurance claims office or American Job Center on the scheduled day and time. Benefits may be denied for those who do not attend. 
  • Some states require registration for work with the State Employment Service, so it can assist you in finding employment.

You will find help in your job search at your local American Job Center/Employment Service Office. They have a variety of services free of charge. Staff there can:

  • Refer you to job openings in your area, or in other areas if you plan to relocate.
  • Help with resume writing, interview practice, and other job search activities.
  • Refer you to training programs.
  • Some Centers offer testing and counseling to help you explore new careers.
  • Connect you with rehabilitation and community services for other needs that impact your job search.

Applications may be rejected for several reasons, but you may appeal for reconsideration.

Each state Unemployment Insurance Program makes its own decisions about workers’ eligibility for benefits. There are many reasons for denying benefit payments; some of the most common are:

  • Voluntarily leaving work without good cause. Benefit payments can be paid if you quit under certain circumstances depending on your state’s laws.
  • Being discharged for misconduct connected with work. Misconduct is an intentional or controllable act or failure to take action, which shows a deliberate disregard of the employer’s interests.
  • Not being able to work or available for work. You must be able, ready and willing to accept a suitable job.
  • Refusing an offer of suitable work.
  • Knowingly making false statements to obtain benefit payments.

If you are disqualified or denied benefits, you have the right to file an appeal. Your employer may also appeal a determination if he/she does not agree with the state’s determination regarding your eligibility. You must file your appeal within an established time frame.

Most people who are eligible to receive unemployment benefits will receive an additional 25 weeks of benefits, through September 6, 2021.

Most states pay unemployment benefits for 26 weeks (a few pay for only 20 weeks and a few pay for up to 30 weeks, visit your state’s unemployment insurance website to find their current policy).

The March 2021 American Rescue Plan allows states to pay benefits for an extra 13 weeks, through September 6. The $300 weekly supplemental benefit will be available through September 6.

In most states, you will automatically receive extended benefits if you are eligible. In some cases, you might have to contact your state’s Unemployment Insurance program. Learn more at your state’s unemployment insurance website.

Have more questions about Unemployment Insurance? Visit FAQs about Unemployment.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2200 episodes.

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