How to File for Unemployment

April 9, 2020

How to File for Unemployment hero

In May of 2019, the U.S. was reporting the lowest unemployment numbers since 1969. Now, as reported on April 3, 2020, almost a year later, the number of unemployed U.S. citizens is estimated at 7.1 million for March 2020.

If you’re one of the millions who has recently lost their job or has had a significant reduction in income due to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, this guide will help you find financial resources, navigate government benefits, and manage your current budget and expenses.

In light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the federal government has made temporary changes to unemployment insurance as outlined in the CARES Act. For more information on unemployment resources specific to the outbreak, see our section on unemployment and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

What is Unemployment Insurance?

Unemployment Insurance is a state-federal program that provides benefits to recipients who have become unemployed due to circumstances outside of their control. Although unemployment insurance is offered nationally, each state has a separate program and administers it differently.

Eligibility requirements, the amount of unemployment compensation you are given, and the length of time you can collect unemployment benefits are determined by each state.

Unemployment Benefits

There is no flat amount that everyone who qualifies unemployment insurance will be given—it depends on the amount that you used to earn, prior to becoming unemployed. Additionally, each state has a different method for calculating the ultimate amount you are given.

For example, some states will pay half of what you used to earn, up to the average earnings of that particular state. You may receive an additional amount if you have dependents. Review benefit information in your state to know what to expect for your claim.

Typically, unemployment insurance benefit claims are available anywhere from 26 weeks to six months of unemployment.

How to Receive Unemployment Benefits

To receive unemployment benefits, you first need to contact your state’s unemployment office. Or, if you lived in one state and worked in another, contact the unemployment office of the state that you were employed in.

Generally, you can file for unemployment insurance over the phone or through a website. Although the process of filing for unemployment insurance is different in each state, it’s likely that you’ll need to provide:

  • Mailing address
  • Social security number
  • Driver’s License or other proof of identification
  • Your previous employer’s information
  • Last date you worked and reason for current unemployment
  • Gross earnings
  • Employment authorization document (Non-citizens)

Ordinarily, you can expect to receive unemployment compensation sometime within the next 2 – 3 weeks after you file. Most states deliver unemployment benefits either as a direct deposit in your bank account or paid on a debit card.

Who Qualifies for Unemployment?

To qualify for unemployment insurance most states require that you:

  1. Are unemployed or have had your work hours significantly reduced
  2. Have lost your job through no fault of your own
  3. Are available for a new job and are currently job searching
  4. Fulfill the state-specific base period requirements

Your base period is used to consider either how long you were employed or how much you earned during a specific amount of time. For example, while California has a twelve-month base period, you don’t have to have been employed for the entire base period, you are just required to have earned a certain amount.

Reasons You Were Denied for Unemployment

Unfortunately, it’s not a guarantee that you will receive unemployment insurance after filing for it. Some of the most common reasons people find themselves denied for unemployment are:

  1. Your hours haven’t been reduced enough.
  2. You didn’t fulfill your state’s base period requirements - either you earned too little or you weren’t employed long enough.
  3. You were self-employed.
  4. You were fired due to gross misconduct.
  5. You quit without a justifiable cause.
  6. You gave false or inaccurate information when filing for unemployment insurance.

Unemployment Insurance After Quitting

Although quitting from a job ordinarily disqualifies you for unemployment insurance and benefits, there are extenuating circumstances where you may still qualify, called “good cause.”

If you are in a situation where you think quitting may be your only option, make sure to start collecting your documentation to prove your case as early as possible. What is considered “good cause” will also be unique to the state that you apply for unemployment insurance in, but generally it is approved in circumstances:

  1. You develop an illness or face a medical emergency that your employer does not coordinate around. In some states, this also applies to family members.
  2. You are working in terrible conditions. This could mean a toxic working environment—constant sexual harassment, for example—that your employer will not address or change.
  3. You are working in unsafe conditions. This will depend largely on the nature of your job—some jobs, like working on an oil rig or as a police officer, are more dangerous than others.
  4. There is no longer a method of transportation available. It’s possible that if you are involved in a car accident or your bus route has changed, thereby preventing you from commuting to work, you may qualify.
  5. You have received a significant pay cut or reduction or work hours. Although this could be a qualifying factor, unless you are below a certain number of hours or pay, this may not be enough to qualify you. Again, we recommend that you thoroughly study your state’s unemployment insurance information before quitting.
  6. What to Do if You Were Denied for Unemployment Insurance

    If you were denied unemployment insurance, you can file an appeal and contest the denial. Keep in mind that each state has a different appeals process, and some even have a limited window of time in which you can file an appeal after your initial unemployment insurance claim has been denied.

    After you have filed for an appeal, be prepared with as much supporting documentation as you can and contact witnesses who may support your claim. As you prepare, make sure you continue to do the things which qualify you for unemployment insurance—namely, that you continue actively looking for a new job.

How Unemployment Will Affect Your Credit

Fortunately, unemployment does not have any direct effect on your credit score. Filing an insurance claim or receiving unemployment benefits will not show up on your credit report.

As long as you make sure that you keep up with any existing payments, unemployment should not negatively affect your credit score.

Unemployment Resources for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

Like we mentioned at the beginning of this article, due to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of unemployment insurance claims being filed.

Eugene Scalie, Secretary of Labor, stated: “As workers across the country make sacrifices to combat the coronavirus, the U.S. Department of Labor is focused on supporting them and their families during a time of economic hardship.”

In light of the outbreak and following the approval of the CARES Act, there have been temporary changes to the unemployment insurance filing process, and additional resources provided.

  • Under section 2102 of the CARES Act, unemployment insurance is available to people who have found themselves unable to work due to COVID-19 that the CARES Act defines as a “covered individual.” This includes self-employed and gig workers.
  • Under section 2107 of the CARES Act, unemployment insurance recipients are given an additional 13 weeks of benefits in addition to the 26 offered by most states.
  • Under section 2104 of the CARES Act, unemployment insurance recipients will receive an additional $600 per week.

How to Navigate Unemployment

The financial insecurity of unemployment is a stressful time. If you do find yourself suddenly unemployed, we recommend that you apply for unemployment insurance anyway—regardless if you believe you are qualified to receive it or not.

If you are confused by your state’s laws, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance by contacting a representative at your state’s Labor Offices.

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