Is There a Way to Estimate My Weekly Unemployment Insurance Benefits?

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Is There a Way to Estimate My Weekly Unemployment Insurance Benefits?

- Oct 05 , 2020

Unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, typically reserved for full-time employees, is now open to part-time and self-employed (freelance, contract, gig, etc.) workers, thanks to provisions in the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  Regardless of your type of employment, however, you’ll still have to go through the application and approval process, and this can vary by state.

Each state also has its own formula for calculating UI benefits, and the amount of time benefits are offered can vary (the average is 26 weeks).  When you apply for UI benefits, you may have many questions, starting with how soon you will receive benefits and how much you can expect from your weekly payments.  Here are a few things you should know to estimate your weekly benefits.

Your Prior Earnings

Several states (about half) utilize the “highest quarter” method to determine your unemployment benefits.  This method simply uses your highest earning quarter out of the earliest four of the last five quarters to set the base weekly rate for your payments.  Some states look at the two highest earning quarters, while others look at annual earnings as a whole.  You can try out this Unemployment Benefits Calculator to get a rough idea of potential benefits based on your earnings and your state of residence.

The amount of UI assistance you receive will also vary by state, but it is typically only a portion of your prior earnings, often roughly 50% or a little more, up to the state’s maximum allowed amount.  However, under the CARES Act, temporary provisions have been enacted to boost these numbers (see weekly federal compensation, below).

PUA Benefits

If you’re a freelance, contract, or gig worker, you should know that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program included in the CARES Act has temporarily expanded UI benefits to self-employed individuals that weren’t previously eligible, from the time you file through July 31, 2020.  How are these benefits calculated?

According to the Congressional Research Service, benefits under the PUA will be “the weekly benefit amount (WBA) as calculated under state law based on recent earnings (subject to the minimum benefit under Disaster Unemployment Assistance [DUA], which is half of the state’s average weekly UC benefit amount”.  So, at the very least, eligible self-employed workers will receive whatever amount is half of the weekly average benefits in their state, although it could be more, based on proven earnings.

Weekly Federal Compensation

In addition to regular state UI benefits, you can expect to receive $600 per week from the federal government under the CARES Act.  This applies to all applicants, including part-time and freelance/gig workers.  You could also be eligible to extend UI benefits for up to 13 weeks after state benefits run out, for a total of up to 39 weeks of benefits, depending on your state.

Estimating your weekly UI benefits is an important step in planning for the future and managing your budget.  Although the amount will vary by state, you should be able to determine a rough estimate using your income and adding $600 per week in federal assistance.