Partial Unemployment Benefits: Eligibility, Amounts, Duration, and Filing

If your hours or pay have been cut, you may still be eligible for partial unemployment compensation; however, most of what you earn will be subtracted from your benefit amount.

Unemployment benefits are available to employees who are out of work temporarily, through no fault of their own. Most people who collect unemployment have lost their jobs. However, you may be eligible for benefits even if you are still working, if your hours or pay have been cut or you have been forced to take a part-time position and you can't get additional work.

In this article, we'll explain:

  • who is eligible for partial unemployment
  • how much you can receive
  • how long benefits might last, and
  • how to apply for benefits.

Eligibility for Partial Unemployment Benefits

State law determines eligibility for unemployment benefits, including partial unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, however, an employee will be eligible for benefits if all of the following are true:

  • You are underemployed, meaning that you are working part time through no fault of your own. For example, if your company cut the hours of everyone in your department in order to avoid layoffs, you would likely meet this eligibility requirement. You may also be eligible if you lost your full-time job and have only been able to find occasional or limited part-time work. Depending on your state's rules, you may be eligible for partial benefits if you had two part-time jobs and lost one of them. However, regardless of how your state determines eligibility for partial benefits, you will not be eligible if you could be working more. For example, if you voluntarily chose to reduce your hours or work part time so you could take care of your children, you would not be eligible.
  • You meet your state's minimum earnings or minimum hours worked requirements. These are the same whether you apply for regular or partial unemployment benefits. (For information on these requirements, see How Long Must I Be Employed Before Being Eligible for Unemployment?)
  • You are able and available to work more. In other words, if your hours are cut to ten per week, you won't be eligible if you decide to go back to school full time and wouldn't be able to work more hours.

Partial Unemployment Benefit Amounts: How Much Will You Receive?

To figure out your weekly benefit amount, your state's unemployment agency will calculate how much you would receive if you were completely unemployed. (For information on how states make this calculation, see How Unemployment Is Calculated.)

Then, the state will subtract what you are actually earning each week, less a small allowance. Most states let applicants keep a little bit of what they earn, without reducing their benefit amounts, to encourage people to take occasional work. The difference is your weekly partial unemployment benefit.

Here are a couple of examples:

Example 1. David works in California and would be entitled to a weekly unemployment benefit of $400, based on his prior earnings. He currently earns $280 per week at his job because his hours and pay have been cut. California disregards the first $25 or one-quarter of an employee's earnings (whichever is more) in calculating partial unemployment benefits. The state would not count one-quarter of his earnings ($70), but would subtract the rest ($210) from the weekly benefit he would receive if he were unemployed ($400) to come up with his partial benefit amount: $190.

Example 2. Susan works in Washington, D.C. and would be eligible for a weekly unemployment benefit of $300, based on her prior earnings. She was laid off from her job, and she currently earns $250 per week from a part-time job. The District of Columbia disregards one-fifth of her earnings plus $20, in calculating partial unemployment benefits. Based on this formula, the state would take her earnings of $250 and subtract $70 (one-fifth of her earnings is $50, plus $20). The remaining number, $180, is then subtracted from $300 (the amount she would receive if fully employed), for a partial benefit of $120.

Dependent Supplements

In some states, workers can receive a higher weekly benefit if they have dependents. For example, in Massachusetts, workers can receive up to $25 more each week per dependent. Dependents are usually limited to those who rely on you for financial support, including:

  • unemployed spouses (or spouses who make significantly less than the employee)
  • children under 18
  • children over 18 who can’t work because of a disability, and
  • children between 18 and 25 who are attending college.

Unemployment benefits are not usually taxed by the state, but you do have to pay federal taxes on them. You can ask your state unemployment agency to deduct 10% of your benefits for federal taxes.

How Long Will I Receive Partial Unemployment Benefits?

The duration of your benefits depends on your state, but typically will not be much longer than 26 weeks. (These timeframes are sometimes extended during periods of high unemployment, including during the coronavirus pandemic.) In Ohio, for example, unemployment benefits are usually limited to 20 to 26 weeks. In California, benefits usually last between 12 to 26 weeks depending on your earnings during the base period. In New York, your benefits are typically limited to 26 times your full weekly rate.

To start receiving unemployment, you will need to file a claim with your state's unemployment agency.

Applying for Unemployment Benefits

If your hours have been reduced or you've lost your job through no fault of your own, you can file a claim for full or partial unemployment benefits with your state's unemployment agency. Visit the website of your state's unemployment agency for eligibility information, filing instructions, and more.

Once your state’s unemployment agency receives your claim, it will give your employer an opportunity to respond. Your employer might contest your claim, in which case you may need to provide additional information or documentation to the state agency. If your claim is denied, you might need to appeal. (See our article on how to appeal an unemployment denial.)

Contact an Attorney

Most people can handle filing claims for unemployment without the help of an attorney, but it might be worth seeking help if your claim has been denied, particularly if your case is a complicated one. An experienced employment attorney can help you navigate the unemployment appeals process in your state, and greatly improve your chances of receiving benefits.

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