Q&A: Unemployment benefits and you — important points to take away

Eligibility, how to apply and amount you'll receive can vary.

As lawmakers debate whether or not to continue the extension of federal unemployment insurance, we thought it would be helpful to offer some of the most common questions about the Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program. We spoke with Brendia Johnson, PHR, an HR representative with HR Solutions, an HR consulting firm based in Baton Rouge, La. Her expertise includes unemployment hearings, workers' compensation claims and specialized HR projects. Q. What are unemployment insurance benefits and who pays for them? Is this something that I would have to contribute to, like health insurance, to receive the benefit? A. The employer pays a federal unemployment tax and a state unemployment tax. Most accountants or those who manage these taxes may refer to them as FUTA and SUTA. These taxes could be thought of as a premium for insurance coverage. This is regulated by the U.S. Department of Labor. The worker pays nothing. There are only a few states where this may not apply. Find out if your state is one of them. Q. How would I know if I am eligible? A. Unemployment insurance benefit is a payment paid to eligible workers who have become unemployed through no fault of their own, meaning that either the employees have been laid off or terminated for cause outside of gross or negligent conduct associated with their employment. However, there are still some additional requirements that must be met. You must also meet the state requirement for wages earned within, or time worked within, a specified time period. This time period is also known as the base period. Though it varies by the state, most states will usually use the first four out of five completed calendar quarters to determine wage amounts. Q. How do I apply for benefits? A. While each state has different methods for applying, the general methods are applying online, via telephone or speaking with someone at your local workforce or unemployment insurance office. In any method, you will need to provide certain information to create your initial claim file, which begins to build your case around the reason you feel you were terminated. After submitting your initial claim, you will receive further instruction on the next steps. Don’t be alarmed if you feel that you have been waiting a while to receive a response from the office. This can take a while, and the number of unemployment claims is relatively high. Q. How much would I receive and for how long? A. The amount that you may be awarded will be determined at the state level and is generally based on a percentage of your average annual earnings. Learn your state’s maximum benefit award. This benefit will generally last for a maximum of 26 weeks; although there are times where these benefits could be extended. This could also vary by the state in which you file for unemployment benefits. The federal benefits at issue right now is proposed to take effect after unemployed workers, who, otherwise are eligible to receive weekly unemployment benefits, have exhausted the average benefit period of 26 weeks. This period of time may vary in some states.  Considering the fact that this piece of legislation has the potential to impact 1.3 million Americans, the average usage of the benefit period has surpassed the typical 26 weeks. Should Congress approve the Extended Unemployment Benefits program, eligible unemployed workers will receive up to an additional 13 weeks of benefits. Some states may also adopt a program where there is a 20-week maximum of unemployment insurance benefits provided by the states. Q. Does applying for or receiving unemployment benefits affect my future employment? Will employers not hire me because I receiving unemployment?
A. Receiving unemployment benefits is a benefit to employees who have been separated from their employment at no fault of their own. Employers in some states actually receive tax incentives for hiring workers who have been out of work for a certain period of time.
The above information is not to be considered as legal advice. For more information on unemployment insurance benefits, you may visit the United States Department of Labor website. To follow the conversation on Twitter, follow @LaborSec using hashtag #RenewUI.
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