The Unemployment Insurance (UI) program offers monetary unemployment benefits to qualifying workers who are unemployed or underemployed through no fault of their own. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, the UI program is operated through state agencies under federal guidelines. 

If you have recently become unemployed or underemployed, UI benefits can reduce the financial hardship that you are likely experiencing. Benefits can be used to pay monthly expenses while you are searching for new employment opportunities. Therefore, it is important to learn more about the Unemployment Insurance program, including eligibility requirements that you must meet to receive benefits, the benefits you will likely receive and how to submit an application. 

Unemployment Insurance Benefits Eligibility Requirements  

While the Unemployment Insurance program exists within every state in the United States, state programs may differ from one another due to the freedom that state agencies are provided when determining eligibility requirements, benefit amounts and benefit lengths. Therefore, it is crucial that you learn more about the regulations included within your state in order to verify whether or not you may qualify for benefits. 

Despite small variations between state UI programs, certain factors for eligibility are similar. For example, you may only receive UI benefits if your job loss is legally considered to not be your fault. If you are let go from a job for an action that was your fault, your job loss would be considered to be terminated for cause. You may not be eligible for UI benefits if your job loss was related to: 

  • Violation of a company policy. 
  • Disclosing confidential information to another company or other third party. 
  • Performing any action that is considered dishonest, such as lying or stealing. 
  • Breaking the law in any way. 
  • Drinking alcohol or consuming any other type of illicit substance during work hours. 

In some cases, you may be considered eligible for UI benefits even if you were terminated for a cause. Your local unemployment office will review the circumstances surrounding your termination. It is also worth knowing that not every case of termination is considered to be termination for cause. For example, you can still collect unemployment benefits if the loss of your employment was related to layoffs within your company.

To qualify for the Unemployment Insurance program, you must meet additional eligibility requirements that are related to the amount of work completed prior to your first UI claim (referred to as your base period) and you must have made a minimum amount of earnings during that base period. Your base period will generally consist of four calendar quarters. Depending on the state where you are filing in, those quarters will likely be the first four of five quarters complete before the quarter that you file your UI claim. To collect benefits from the Unemployment Insurance program, you must also be willing and physically able to work. 

Applying for UI Benefits 

After familiarizing yourself with Unemployment Insurance eligibility requirements, it is important to learn how to apply for benefits. When filing for benefits, you must submit an application in the state that you were employed regardless of whether or not you live within that state. 

Each state UI program determines the methods that applicants may use to file for unemployment benefits. Depending on the state you are filing in, you may be permitted to file your claim in person at your local unemployment agency office, over the phone or online through a registration system that is maintained by the state.

When filing a claim for unemployment benefits, you must provide detailed information about yourself and your work history. Therefore, you should be prepared to provide: 

  • Personal information, including your name, address and your Social Security Number. 
  • Employment information, including the names and addresses of each of your former employers. 
  • The dates that you were employed for each listed employer. 

To prevent a delay in benefits, it is crucial that you file a claim for benefits as soon as you become unemployed or underemployed. It is also worth knowing that some state Unemployment Insurance programs have a one week waiting period before you can collect benefits. 

When submitting an unemployment benefits claim, it is important to ensure that all of the information that you have provided is truthful and accurate. Inaccurate or false information can cause a delay in the processing of your application or result in a denial of unemployment benefits. 

After you have submitted your initial UI claim, it generally will take up to three weeks for your claim to be processed and for you to begin to receive benefits. However, if your claim is initially denied or contested by your previous employer, it may take longer for you to receive benefits. If you are denied Unemployment Insurance benefits, you have the legal right to an appeal. 

Filing an Appeal After an Unemployment Benefit Denial

An appeal can be requested by you or your previous employer. An appeal will occur if your benefits are approved but your employer contests your eligibility. You have the legal right to file an appeal if your Unemployment Benefits are denied and you believe that you qualify. While an appeal does not guarantee you a different decision on your case, it does offer a second look at your case and the evidence presented by you or your employer. 

If you would like to file an appeal, you must follow the appeal procedures that will be outlined by your unemployment agency in your denial letter. Your denial letter will also include the reason that you were denied unemployment benefits as well as the date that you must submit your appeal by, should you choose to do so. If you have any questions regarding your appeal, you can contact your local unemployment agency or the U.S. Department of Labor. 

In addition to learning more about the appeal process for Unemployment Insurance, it is important to review what your legal rights are. For example, you have the right to legal representation during all healing appeals, should you choose to hire an attorney. 

It is crucial that you continue filing UI benefit claims on a weekly or biweekly basis (depending on the state) while going through the appeal process. Failing to do so could result in a loss of benefits for that period of time if your benefits are approved following an appeal. 

Collecting Unemployment Benefits

Once approved for unemployment benefits, you can receive benefits up to the maximum number of weeks for your state. The standard length of time that you may be eligible for UI benefits is 26 weeks. However, an extension may be available at the end of the 26-week period during periods of statewide high-unemployment rates. 

Your unemployment benefits will not be provided to you automatically. You must renew your claim regularly following the schedule set by your state. Typically, you must file a claim on a weekly or biweekly basis. Each time you submit a new claim, you must provide the steps that you took to find new unemployment, any job offers you have received or refused and any income you have earned.