Unemployment insurance is a joint system of federal and state law. Federal law sets the general parameters of the program; the federal government also collects some of the money for the program and makes additional benefits available during times of high unemployment.
However, most of the details are determined by state law, including:
- Eligibility for benefits. For example, each state has its own earnings or work requirements; its own definition of "good cause" to quit (which allows employees who leave for these reasons to still collect benefits); and its own rules about which reasons for being fired will render an employee ineligible for benefits.
- Amount of benefits. States have different formulas for calculating how much employees will receive each week, and the maximum benefits an employee can collect vary significantly from state to state. Some states provide additional benefits to those who are supporting dependents; others don't.
- Duration of benefits. Many states offer benefits for up to 26 weeks (currently, federal programs are in place that extend this period; see How Long Do Unemployment Benefits Last?). Some states offer benefits for a shorter period of time; in some states, the duration of benefits depends on the state's unemployment rate.
- Process to file a claim. To collect benefits, you have to follow your state's procedures to file an initial application, then file your weekly or biweekly claims for benefits. Each state has its own form and process. You may have to provide information about your effort to find new work or attend training, for example. Some states require you to mail in a written claim, while others require you to call the agency at a particular time.
- Appeal procedures. If your claim for benefits is denied, you have the right to appeal. The procedures, time limits, and forms for doing so vary by state.
As you can see, you'll need to find out your state's rules in order to figure out your eligibility and apply for unemployment. Fortunately, most states make lots of information available to unemployment claimants online, through their state's unemployment insurance agency. Click on your state, below, for a link to its unemployment agency.