Before the coronavirus reached the U.S., unemployment was low and few could have anticipated a global pandemic. However, as the pandemic and ensuing recession took hold, a record-breaking number of people filed for unemployment benefits to stay financially afloat.
âCOVID-19 led to an incredible number of American workers being without work,â says Julia Simon-Mishel, an unemployment compensation attorney. âAnd itâs caused a huge need for individuals to file for unemployment insurance.â
Unemployment insurance, or unemployment benefits, can offer an essential lifeline. But if youâve never accessed these benefits before, you may have questions about how they work. You might also be asking: What do I do when my unemployment benefits run out and Iâm still unemployed?
This article1 offers tips about what you need to know about filing an unemployment claim. It also addresses the following questions:
- How do you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits?
- Can your unemployment benefits be extended?
- What can you do when unemployment runs out?
- Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out?
If youâre just getting ready to file or need a refresher on the basics of unemployment benefits, read on to have your questions answered.
If youâre already collecting benefits and want to know what happens once you reach the end of the benefit period, skip ahead to âSteps to take before your unemployment benefits run out.â
Common questions about unemployment benefits
Experiencing a job loss is challenging no matter what. Keep in mind that youâre not alone, and remember that unemployment benefits were created to help you.
While theyâre designed to provide financial relief, unemployment benefits are not always easy to navigate. Hereâs what you need to know to understand how unemployment benefits work:
What are unemployment benefits?
Unemployment insurance provides people who have lost their job with temporary income while they search for and land another job. The amount provided and time period the benefits last may vary by state. Generally, most states offer up to half of a personâs previous wages in unemployment benefits for 26 weeks or until you land another full-time job, whichever comes first. Requirements and eligibility may vary, so be sure to check your stateâs unemployment agency for guidance.
How do you apply for unemployment benefits?
Depending on where you live, claims may be filed in person, by phone or online. Check your state governmentâs website for details.
Who can file an unemployment claim?
This also may vary from state to state, but eligibility typically requires that you lost your job or were furloughed through no fault of your own, in addition to meeting work and wage requirements. During the coronavirus pandemic, the government loosened restrictions, extending unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed.
When should you apply for unemployment benefits?
Short answer: As soon as possible after you lose your job. âIf you are someone who has had steady W2 work, itâs important that you file for unemployment the moment you lose work,â Simon-Mishel says. The longer you wait to file, the longer youâre likely to wait to get paid.
When do you receive unemployment benefits?
Generally, if you are eligible, you can expect to receive your first benefit check two to three weeks after you file your claim. Of course, this may differ based on your state or if thereâs a surge of people filing claims.
2020 enhancements to unemployment benefits for freelance and contract workers
In early 2020, the U.S. government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. In addition to other benefits, the CARES Act created a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. This program provides unemployment benefits to independent contractors and other workers who were typically ineligible. That means that if you donât have steady W2 incomeâfor instance, freelance and contract workers, those who file 1099s, farmers and the self-employedâyou still may qualify for unemployment benefits.
âThat program is a retroactive payout,â Simon-Mishel says. âIf youâre just finding out about that program several months after losing your job, you should be able to file and get benefits going back to when you lost work.â
Because legislation affecting unemployment benefits continues to evolve, itâs important that you keep an eye out for any additional stimulus programs that can extend unemployment benefits. Be sure to regularly check your stateâs unemployment insurance program page for updates.