How Much Will I Get for Unemployment Benefits (and for How Long)?

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How Much Will I Get for Unemployment Benefits (and for How Long)?

- Sep 30 , 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a massive surge in America's unemployment rate. Along with that unwelcome reality comes the sudden need for many newly jobless Americans to apply for unemployment insurance. Another new stress point is determining what they may receive for unemployment benefits—how much, how soon, and how long will you get compensation?

The answer differs according to where you previously worked. It’s also augmented by recent Congressional legislation to help stimulate the economy during the COVID-19 crisis. We’ll try to remove a little of that uncertainty, and help you find more definite answers about how much you may receive for unemployment compensation.

State Unemployment Benefits

Every state administers its own unemployment insurance benefits program. Since every state's employment profile is different, eligibility requirements, base time period and payout rates vary from state to state.

For example, California uses a base period of 12 months, divided by quarters, retroactive to the quarter before you file your claim (if you file in September, your base period for benefit payments starts in April). Your earnings must have surpassed a certain minimum during that base period. Your weekly benefits in California generally range between $40 and $450, and you must have left your job “through no fault of your own” to qualify.

That’s just one example—if you don’t live in California, your state’s requirements may be different. It may base payouts on a different time frame or have a different maximum amount you can receive. Some states offer modest, additional benefits for workers with children or dependents; others don’t.

Usually, higher-paid workers receive more benefit amounts than lesser-paid workers, but their payouts are calculated using a smaller percentage rate. State policies about getting one-off, temporary work during a period without a full-time job also vary and can seriously impact your benefit status if your earnings aren’t properly reported.

Fortunately, each state posts its unemployment insurance requirements, rates, and application process online—so search for official state government sites on the internet for the information. They should also give you an option to calculate your expected benefits then and there, so have some pay stubs handy. Remember, too, that your unemployment benefits are subject to taxes.

Federal CARES Benefits

The COVID-19 pandemic forced an unusually harsh round of effects on employees, employers, and places of business across the nation. Unemployment claims skyrocketed due to layoffs, furloughs, and firings. Many "non-essential" businesses closed their doors permanently; others halted hiring or reduced their staff to skeleton crews.

Because of the relatively sudden, widespread fallout caused by the coronavirus and lingering uncertainty as to when business will get back to normal, Congress approved a new federal benefits package—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security for Americans (CARES) Act—in March 2020. One of this measure's statutes supplements states' unemployment insurance benefits with extra federal funds during this uncertain period.

Those receiving unemployment benefits will also receive an additional $600—on top of their state-issued benefits—each week through July 31, 2020. The federal government will also pay up to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits as dictated by the state, against up to 39 weeks of state benefits, through December 31, 2020.

For example: If your weekly benefit from your state is $200, you’ll also get an additional $200 from the CARES package. If you receive unemployment benefits for anywhere between 13 and 39 weeks, you’ll get a total of checks for $200 from the federal government. If you only receive state unemployment insurance for between 1 to 12 weeks, you’ll get additional federal checks every single week for the duration of your eligibility period.

Check With Your State

Sound complicated? It is! But clarity can be found at a few flexes of your fingertips. Look up your state’s official website for exact information on unemployment insurance.

Also, remember you’re checking the unemployment benefits for the state where you last worked, not necessarily where you live. If you work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but live in Camden, New Jersey, you’ll want to look up information for Pennsylvania.