Common Unemployment Claims Questions & Answers
Being unemployed is stressful, and sometimes the unemployment benefits process can add to that stress. It can be difficult to get through to the unemployment office to get help with your questions or resolve issues with your claims.
During times of high unemployment, the process of filing can be even more difficult. Wait times are often longer and online systems overwhelmed by the volume of applications. In addition, economic crises can strain application systems that were intended for a far simpler process.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government extended unemployment benefits to self-employed and gig workers. However, many self-employed applicants report problems filing for benefits using online forms designed for W-2 workers.
Having a problem getting through to unemployment or an issue with your unemployment claim? The following FAQ will help you navigate the unemployment system and get some answers.
What Is Unemployment Insurance?
Unemployment insurance provides compensation to workers who lose their job through no fault of their own. Typically, this means being laid off for lack of work, not being fired for cause or quitting.
Monetary payments are provided for a specific period of time or until the worker is hired for a new job.
Each state has its own eligibility guidelines for unemployment insurance benefits. These usually include an earnings threshold and a time worked requirement. In most states, workers who were employed for the first four of the last five calendar quarters meet the requirements for time worked.
You can find information on collecting unemployment benefits and filing a claim on your state unemployment website. The U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides a list of state unemployment benefits programs.
Am I Eligible for Unemployment?
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act extends benefits to workers who would not ordinarily be eligible for unemployment insurance.
Pandemic unemployment benefits are available for employees, freelancers, gig workers, independent contractors, those who can't work because of coronavirus, and people with a limited work history. Contact your state department of labor for more information.
What Information Do I Need to Apply?
When you apply for unemployment, you'll need to provide information that identifies you and your last employer. Depending on how long you worked at your last position, you may also need to submit information about your previous employment.
State requirements vary, but typically, unemployment programs will ask for information like:
- Your Social Security number
- Your driver's license or state ID card number
- Your complete mailing address, including street, city, state, and zip code
- A telephone number where you can be contacted during business hours
- The full company names and addresses of all employers that you worked for in the last two years
- If you were a federal employee, copies of forms SF8 and SF50
- If you’re a current or former service member claiming benefits based on your military service, a copy of your most recent form DD 214
Here's how to file a claim for unemployment, and information about what you need to file for unemployment online.
How Much Money Will I Receive?
Just as each state sets its eligibility guidelines, each state determines its maximum monetary benefit. In many states, benefits equal up to half your weekly earnings up to a certain amount.
Typically, these benefits are available for up to 26 weeks. During times of high unemployment, unemployed workers may be eligible for additional weeks of compensation.
Some state unemployment office websites offer benefits calculators. To find more information, use CareerOneStop to find your state’s program.
Remember that unemployment benefits are considered taxable income and must be reported on your state and federal tax returns.
Can I Work Part-Time and Receive Unemployment Benefits?
If you recently lost your full-time job and were only able to find part-time work, or if you held a part-time job and lost it through no fault of your own, you may be able to receive unemployment benefits.
I Can't Contact Anyone at the Unemployment Office. What Should I Do?
Ask Your Legislators for Assistance
Your state representative may be able to help you get in touch with the unemployment office. In New York, for example, many legislators are assisting unemployed workers with claims issues to get on a list for callbacks from the Department of Labor. Here's how to find your representatives. Be prepared to share your claim details and your contact information when you call or email.
Scott Barer, a labor and employment attorney in California, has one word for anyone trying to contact an unemployment office: tenacity—another way to say stubbornness.
Barer says, "Sometimes it takes interminable waits on the phone. Sometimes it takes working your way up the chain of command. It almost always takes tenacity."
One of his clients was denied a claim for unemployment benefits. After finally being able to talk to someone at the unemployment office who was handling her claim and asking to talk with a supevisor, things seemed to go much more smoothly. She was even given an "inside" phone number so she could reach a live person rather than being stuck on "perma-hold." He also notes that once they prevailed at the appeal, her benefits were paid retroactively to the date of her original application.
What if the Person I Talk to Can't Answer My Question?
Even once you reach someone in the unemployment office, it's possible they will not have the answers to the questions you are asking. Don't give up.
If you can't get the answer you want, Shahrzad Arasteh, the founder of Career Consulting Services, recommends asking to speak with a supervisor or someone who reviews cases. If the supervisor is not there, leave your number and ask that they call you back. If you don't hear from them in a day or two, call the unemployment office again. It may also be a good idea to ask an employee there when the supervisor will be in next so you can wait or call back at a better time.
If you still can't get the answers you're looking for, Arasteh suggests getting in touch with someone at your state's department of labor, explaining your issue, and asking for help with resolving it.
The unemployment benefits claims process can be frustrating at a time when more frustration is the last thing you need in your life. But patience and persistence will pay off—literally.
Why Didn't I Get My Unemployment Benefits?
There are several reasons that your unemployment benefits could have stopped. The simplest explanation is that you have used up all the benefits available to you.
Benefits vary by state, so unemployment compensation differs based on your location and your individual claim.
There could also be an issue with your claim. Arasteh notes that when she worked for a nonprofit workforce development organization, some of her clients would share that their checks had unexpectedly stopped. In some cases, she learned that they had answered "No" to the question of whether they were actively searching for a job, causing the unemployment insurance (UI) claim to be flagged and their check stopped.
She notes that working with a career counselor or career development agency may have met the job-search requirement, but clients either did not know this or did not know what would happen if they answered no.
If your benefits have stopped and you are unsure why, you should check with your state unemployment office for clarification.
CPR News. "Gig Workers Frustrated With Vague Error Messages As Colorado Expands Unemployment System." Accessed April 21, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor. "State Unemployment Insurance Benefits." Accessed April 21, 202
U.S. Department of Labor. "How Do I File for Unemployment Insurance?" Accessed April 21, 2020.