FAQ: Unemployment Benefits - The Basics

Q: What are unemployment insurance (UI) benefits?

A: Unemployment insurance (UI) benefits are weekly payments made under state laws designed to provide income support to workers who have lost their jobs involuntarily. Generally state unemployment insurance systems: - Provide up to 26 weeks of benefits - Calculate weekly benefits as a percentage of a worker’s prior wages - fund benefits through payroll taxes on employers

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Q: Where do I apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits?

A: Every state (as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) has an agency that administers its UI benefits system. In most states you can apply for benefits by telephone and in some states you can file on-line. Find your state here.

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Q: I was denied benefits – unfairly. What can I do about it?

A: The state's appeal procedure should be explained on the decision document. Appeals should be filed quickly, as the deadline to appeal an agency decision can be as short as 10 days. Some states have nonprofit organizations that offer assistance to individuals experiencing difficulties claiming their benefits.

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Q: Why do we have Unemployment Insurance?

A: Congress established the unemployment insurance program in the 1935 Social Security Act. The goal is to protect individuals and families from the consequences of unemployment. The amount is always less than a regular salary, so that workers are still motivated to find jobs. UI also helps communities and the national economy by lessening the effects of recession. Of all the ways to stimulate the economy during a recession, providing benefits to unemployed workers provides the biggest multiplier effect. Put another way, a dollar spent on unemployment benefits circulates in the economy more than a dollar spent on government purchasing, tax cuts and many other forms of stimulus.

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Q: Do all unemployed workers get benefits?

A. No. Workers with insufficient recent wages may not meet the minimum earnings requirement to qualify for benefits. In addition, workers who were discharged for various forms of misconduct or who voluntarily left employment without good cause may be disqualified under the provisions of state UI law. Unemployed workers who are uncertain if they will qualify should apply for benefits and let the state UI agency determine whether or not they are eligible.

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