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How to apply for unemployment benefits: answers to key questions

These steps will help you feel more secure financially, writes GOBankingRates.

Photo: Shutterstock

The outbreak of COVID-19 led to a quick and sudden stoppage of the US economy. On March 27, 2020, more than 3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits, the highest figure nearly five times since the start of records in 1967. To help cope with a serious recession, the US government adopted a large stimulus package that day, expanding unemployment benefits significantly across the country. Since many U.S. residents overwhelmed by the current economic crisis have probably never applied for unemployment benefits, consider how this is done and what it covers.

What is unemployment insurance?

Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program to protect laid-off workers. If you find yourself unemployed through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for cash benefits. Although federal benefits are the same nationwide, each state is free to determine its own unemployment benefits. Thus, depending on where you live, your benefits may be higher or lower.

The world of unemployment insurance has changed quite a bit recently. The US government has passed laws designed to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of these laws has greatly expanded federal unemployment benefits and provided the states with ample opportunity to do the same.

Who is eligible for unemployment benefits?

Traditionally, you only qualify for unemployment benefits if you “quit your last job because of a lack of available work,” as defined by the US Department of Labor. You must also meet state wage or time requirements. Details vary by state.

Under the new legislation, these requirements are greatly expanded. Now, even if your working hours have been temporarily eliminated or reduced, you can still qualify for benefits. Likewise, independent contractors, gigantic workers, patients or caregivers for sick relatives can apply for unemployment assistance. Federal benefits are currently distributed for up to 4 months and provide up to $ 600 per week.

On the subject: Coronavirus unemployment benefits: how much they pay in different states

Do I need to pay taxes on federal benefits?

Unemployment benefits - both federal and state - are considered taxable income. You will need to report that you received them when you file your tax return.

What about vacation pay?

If you were fired and received compensation for unused vacation days, this may affect the amount you receive in the form of unemployment benefits. Policies vary from state to state. For example, in California, your vacation compensation will not affect unemployment benefits unless you are given a final return date.

What if you quit on your own?

If you quit your job on your own initiative, this usually robs you of unemployment benefits. The nuances must be clarified in each state. For example, in California, you must show that you quit your job for a good reason, for example, because of unsafe working conditions, and that you did your best to keep your job. In this case, you still have to participate in a telephone interview with your employer and a California representative.

How to apply for unemployment benefits

Between the time you apply for unemployment benefits and the date you receive your first payment, it may take some time, so don’t delay putting your unemployment office in your state.

The amount you receive will be based on the percentage of your income for the last year, there is an upper limit, determined separately by each state. Although payments are unlikely to completely replace your income, they can significantly affect your ability to pay critical bills on time.

Each state has its own specific requirements, but the process is similar. Here are the steps for California:

Step 1. Verify Compliance

You should get enough salary during the base period, which is determined using the online calculator. You should also be:

  • partially or completely unemployed through no fault of their own;
  • physically capable and available to do the job;
  • Be actively looking for work and be ready to accept work immediately.

For California, benefits are limited to between $ 40 and $ 450 per week.

Step 2. Submit an application

When applying for unemployment benefits, you will need the following information:

  • details of your last employer, including company name, manager name, mailing address, physical address and phone number;
  • employment date;
  • reason for termination of work;
  • gross income for the last working week;
  • Information about all your employers for the previous 18 months, including the name of the company, address (postal and physical location), dates of employment, gross salary, number of working hours per week, hourly pay and the reason why you stopped working;
  • for official federal employees: Unemployment Insurance Notice to Federal Employees, Standard Form 8;
  • For former military personnel: copy of DD 214 Member 4;
  • proof of citizenship; for non-US citizens - a work permit document.

In California, you can apply online or by fax, phone, or email. You will need to consult your state's unemployment commission to determine the options available.

On the subject: How to apply for unemployment benefits in your state: useful contacts

Step 3. Confirm unemployment every week

To continue to receive unemployment benefits, you will need to confirm every week that you still qualify. In fact, you must confirm that you still meet all the conditions necessary to receive money, such as the opportunity and desire to work and an active job search.

Is there a waiting period for the first payment?

As a rule, states set a weekly waiting period before you can start getting unemployment benefits. However, due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, some states may waive the waiting period. Keep in mind that given the record number of new jobless claims, delays are possible anyway.

Unemployment Benefits Fraud

Some cases of fraud worth considering if you are applying for unemployment benefits include the following:

  • Payment of fee: when applying for unemployment benefits, no fee will be charged.
  • Fake Sites: Use only the official unemployment site for your state.
  • Emails and text messages: legal unemployment agencies will never ask for your personal information by email or text message.
  • False bank cards: request cards from state agencies only.

You should never provide your social security number or credit card number to unsolicited subscribers, via text message or email.

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