Official figures tell us that unemployment is on the decline. The government says it's down to 4.3%, which by historical standards is said to be a low figure.
For the hundreds of thousands of Americans that are unemployed, though, those figures don't mean much. A long recession and a "jobless recovery" have left workers stranded, often boxed out of the labor force by a lack of potential employers or holding skills for jobs that no longer exist. Politicians and analysts can argue over cause and solutions, but the unemployed Americans at the receiving end of the problem worry more about how to survive.
If you can count yourself among the tens of million of Americans struggling with joblessness, it's important to understand two things. First, there is no shame in it. Many people have lost jobs, sometimes many times in their lives, and most have recovered and gone on to better things. Second, there are programs that help Americans who are struggling to find work. Regardless of why you're out of work, it's important and beneficial to explore the possibilities that may exist for you.
Federal-State Unemployment Compensation
The U.S. Federal government and every U.S. state have a legal partnership that provides unemployment compensation for individuals who have lost jobs. Every state maintains services and a separate commission through which unemployed Americans can apply for compensation. Every state has standards that determine who can qualify, but There are a certain number of requirements that are common to all states. To get compensation, individuals must meet the following basic requirements:
You must be a U.S. citizen or person with a legal right to work in the U.S.
Your current unemployment status must have been through no fault of your own
. If you lost your last job for an act of "gross misconduct" or if you resigned your position, you're not eligible.
You must also meet your state's requirements, which will vary. Some states will require you to have been working for a certain minimum number of hours per week, while others may require that you have earned a certain minimum amount during the previous quarter. You will need to check with your individual state's employment commission to access these state-by-state requirements.
The Application Process
Like all aspects of unemployment compensation, the application process varies from state to state. You may be able to apply online or on the telephone in as little as 20-25 minutes. You may be asked to appear in person for an interview. You will probably have to provide the following:
Your name, address, phone number, email address
Name, address, phone number, dates of employment for each employer during the past six weeks
Recent pay stubs
Social Security card
Driver's license or state issued ID
Military discharge papers (when applicable)
Reason for loss of each job
If you are claiming spouse or dependents, their names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth
Description of your regular job and job skills
These are typical requirements; actual needs will vary, but it can't hurt to have all of these available.
After you have filed your claim, the unemployment agency will begin their investigation. They will verify your job loss with your former employer. They will be able to check your dates of employment and wages based on your employer's payment of unemployment taxes.
Here are some possible outcomes for your application:
- If your application is denied, you may appeal within 1-4 weeks.
- The employee and employer may be asked to come to a hearing. Both parties may have legal representation.
- You may be asked to provide additional verification to substantiate your claim. If you receive such a request, you must respond promptly before any deadlines
- Your claim may sail through. There will additional weekly steps you must take, but you are approved!
The unemployment compensation you receive is based on your previous wages and your current income. The amount is usually less than you used to earn, usually about half of your formwr salary. You will be asked to report any income, including severance, vacation pay, pension, workers' comp, etc. That income may then be deducted from your benefit amount. Benefits may be deposited directly to your bank account or added to a debit card.
Benefits typically last for up to 26 weeks. They may be extended up to 20 more weeks if you have some qualifying weeks of work.
In many states, there is a one-week waiting period before you can receive compensation. Processing can take several weeks, so be prepared to wait. After securing benefits, you will likely still have to file weekly or bi-weekly. When you file weekly, you will need to confirm that you are looking for work by answering questions about recent applications and interviews. You'll need to provide the names and addresses of workplaces where you've applied, how you applied, the type of work applied for, and the outcome. Failure to actively pursue employment by completing two applications will jeopardize benefits. If a placement officer provides you with an employment contact, you might need to report on the outcome. Do not falsify this information, they will check, and you can lose your benefits if your reports are inaccurate.
Unemployment compensation is not the only option for assistance. There are other programs that can help you make it through to your next job.
Social Security Disability Insurance
If you are out of work because of a disability, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance. You may receive reduced SSA benefits if you are also collecting unemployment benefits. You will need to contact your state's unemployment office for more details on how collecting both forms of benefits impact how much you receive. There are circumstances where you may be able to collect both SSA Disability and state-funded unemployment benefits at the same time.
You will need to check with your state office to determine what you are eligible to receive and wether you can get simultaneous benefits.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
If you are unemployed, you may be struggling to provide adequate food for yourself or your family. If that's the case, you may want to consider applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. This program helps low-income and unemployed individuals gain access to proper food from local grocery stores.
Housing Choice Section 8 Voucher Program
Although unemployment benefits are often intended to be temporary, there is a chance you may find yourself unemployed for much longer than expected. If your benefits run out before you've had the opportunity to find work, you may find yourself struggling to stay in your home. If that's the case, consider applying for the Section 8 Voucher Program, which will help you and your family find low-cost housing.
Few unemployed individuals want to spend time and energy trying to look into all of the programs that exist to help them, and many people who are eligible for help do not receive it because they don't know it's there. If your family is in need, you need to understand the systems that will be there to carry you through until you find your next job. We wish you the best of luck!
Here are links to the medical, nutrition, and housing assistance programs and organizations mentioned in the article that you can connect with:
Department of Labor Services Locator
Social Security Disability Insurance
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/SNAP Benefits
Section 8 Voucher Program