How to File for Unemployment

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Who needs to know how to file for unemployment?

Unemployment benefits are available only to eligible individuals. If you have recently lost a job and meet the necessary criteria, you may be able to get money from the government that will help you support yourself as you seek another job.

To qualify for unemployment you must:

  • Be unemployed through no fault of your own. If your company downsizes, you would be eligible for unemployment, but if you quit voluntarily or are fired for illegal or dangerous activity in the workplace, you cannot get unemployment.
  • Meet state requirements. Each state has its own rules regarding unemployment. You must check with the state where you reside or worked to determine whether you meet local requirements.

How to file for unemployment

If you’re eligible for unemployment, there are a few simple steps you must take to start getting benefits.

1. Check your state’s eligibility requirements

Some states specify how long you must work for a company or how much income you must have made from them in order to receive unemployment benefits. Check these details carefully to make sure you’re within local limitations.

You will typically file for unemployment benefits from the state in which you worked before you lost your job. If you live in a different state from the one that you worked in, contact the unemployment office in your state of residence to find out how you should handle filing for unemployment with a different state. 

2. Gather the necessary paperwork and information

Collect the paperwork specified by your state’s unemployment office. This will typically include:

  • Your driver’s license or another form of identification
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your address and phone number
  • The name, address and phone number of previous employers (typically over the last two years)
  • Dates of employment with your previous employers

Make sure you have accurate contact information for past employers, as the unemployment office will contact them to verify your employment dates and the reason you left your job.

3. Submit your unemployment application

Carefully complete your state’s unemployment application and include any requested copies of essential documents, such as your driver’s license. It can take several weeks for your unemployment benefits to kick in, so you don’t want to delay this process by submitting incorrect or incomplete information. Check your application thoroughly before submitting it. Depending on your state, you may be able to submit your application by mail, phone, in person or online.

4. Maintain your unemployment

There are defined steps you must take to keep your unemployment benefits active. This varies by state but typically involves actively seeking employment. You will often need to provide detailed information that includes:

  • A list of jobs you’ve applied for
  • Job offers you’ve received
  • Reasons for declining work if you’ve not accepted these offers
  • Information on part-time work you have done

Most states require that you submit this information either weekly or biweekly. You may be able to do so online or over the phone. Some states require that you attend regular in-person meetings to discuss your job hunt. Your state may also ask you to go to career training sessions or classes on updating your resume and seeking a job.

If you fail to keep up with the required activities, your state will stop providing unemployment benefits. Maintaining your unemployment requires dedication to your job search.

Unemployment benefits will only last for a set number of weeks. Most states offer 26 weeks of benefits, though this varies by location. Many states will also increase the maximum number of weeks that you can claim benefits during periods of high unemployment in the area.

It’s beneficial to get part-time work anywhere you can. If you make enough at your part-time job that you don’t need unemployment for a week, you will ultimately save that week for future use.

How to get health coverage during unemployment

If you had health coverage through your previous employer, you may be eligible for a continuation of that coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

You may be eligible for COBRA if:

  • Your previous group health plan was covered by COBRA
  • You experienced a qualifying event such as suffering involuntary job loss, transition to a new job, or reduction in work hours
  • You are a qualified beneficiary for that qualifying event

If your health plan is covered by COBRA, you will receive a notice detailing your COBRA rights and your option to continue coverage. You have 60 days to choose whether you want to continue your coverage. For more information on how you can use COBRA, contact the plan administrator for your previous group insurance plan.

Though unemployment can be trying, benefits like these make it easier to navigate the time between jobs and keep your family safe, healthy and comfortable as you pursue a new position.