Unemployment benefits are available to those who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. Unemployment compensation is a joint program of the federal and state government. Federal law outlines the basic structure of the program, while state law determines which employees are eligible for benefits, how much they will receive, how long benefits last, and the process applicants must follow to claim benefits.
Once you have applied for benefits, you will have to follow your state's rules to claim benefits for each week you remain unemployed. If you don't meet the claim requirements, you may not receive benefits.
You must meet certain eligibility requirements to collect unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, you will be eligible for benefits only if all of the following are true:
Each state has its own rules on how these terms are defined and which employees are eligible. For more information on each of these requirements, see Who Is Eligible for Unemployment? To find out your state's requirements, go to your state's unemployment agency website; for links to each state's agency, see State Unemployment Agencies.
Most states allow applicants to file for unemployment benefits online, by phone, or by mail. You will need to provide some basic information about yourself (such as your Social Security number), your employer, your earnings, and the reason why you are unemployed. The agency may interview you by phone about your claim; it may also contact your most recent employer. If the agency decides you are eligible for benefits, it will send you a notice of eligibility and begin providing benefits. Some states send you a weekly or biweekly check; others pay benefits on a debit card or through direct deposit to a bank account.
To continue receiving benefits, you must follow your state's procedures and requirements. You may have to file a claim form, call the agency at a particular time each week, or complete an online questionnaire. You may have to go to the unemployment office for an interview, attend a job search or training seminar, or speak to a counselor about your efforts to find a new job. Most states require applicants to provide some information every week or every other week about their continuing eligibility for benefits. For example, you may have to provide information on your job search, any compensation you've received, and so on.
If you don't follow your state's requirements, you may not receive benefits for that claim period -- or the state may decide that you aren't eligible for benefits at all.
Your claim for benefits will remain open, as long as you meet all of your state's requirements, until you are no longer eligible for benefits. For example, if you get another job, you won't be eligible to collect unemployment. If you are no longer available to work (for instance, because you decided to go back to school full time), you will also be ineligible for benefits.
At some point, your benefits will run out. Most states provide unemployment benefits for 26 weeks (recently, a handful of states have cut back, due to budgetary shortfalls). In times of high unemployment, the federal government provides extended benefits to those whose state benefits have run out. Currently, the federal government provides up to 73 additional weeks of benefits in states with the highest unemployment rates. (For more information on these extended benefit programs, see How Long Do Unemployment Benefits Last?) Once all benefits available to you have run out, your claim will be closed.