More than two years into the current recession, unemployment in the United States continues to grow, and the problem is exacerbated as countless cities and towns across the country lay off workers in a desperate attempt to balance their budgets. Now more than ever the issue of unemployment benefits has become very important to a large number of people. It has become so important that billions of dollars of the government's stimulus package were specifically designed to help states cover unemployment insurance costs. This will help keep the programs afloat, but for workers who have never faced unemployment there are still questions about whether they qualify for these benefits.
While the process can be daunting, confusing, and often frustrating the experience can be made easier and smoother with a little information up front. Here are some of the basics regarding unemployment benefits:
Unemployment insurance is an employer-paid insurance program designed to help workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own. It is meant as a temporary measure to give financial assistance to qualified workers while they are looking for other work. Employer taxes and reimbursements support the Unemployment Trust Fund; employers do not deduct any money from employees' paychecks to pay for this program.
There are three basic requirements you must meet in order to qualify for unemployment benefits:
1. Past wages. You must have earned enough at your previous job or jobs to meet the minimum threshold for benefits.
2. Job separation. As stated above, unemployment benefits are meant for those workers who lost their job through no fault of their own. Some examples would include being permanently laid off, having to move with a spouse who is in the military, and being fired for reasons other than misconduct.
3. You must be able to work and be actively looking for employment while you are receiving unemployment benefits.
The amount you will receive will by no means replace your previous salary. In Texas, the Workforce Commission will use the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters as your base period, taking the highest earning quarter and dividing by 25 to determine your weekly benefit. For example, if you had been earning $50,000 per year, then during your highest earning quarter you would have earned $12,500. That number divided by 25 is $500, which would normally be your weekly unemployment benefit; however, by law the highest benefit you can receive per week is $378. The maximum benefit duration is 26 weeks.
In the past, unemployment claims had to be filled out at your local unemployment office, which meant standing in long lines, wasting the better part of a day just to get paperwork done. The Internet age has made this process much more streamlined, as almost everything can now be done online. You can learn of job opportunities and training programs online as well.
For those who have been fired for cause, I would still recommend filing for unemployment. Your former company may fight the claim, but my experience as an employer has been that the awarding of benefits often depends on the state caseworker or agent that handles the claim. Some take a very narrow reading of the term "misconduct," and there have been some fired former employees who have been denied benefits while others have been approved, even though the cause for the firing, and the back-up documentation, were virtually identical. The only difference was the caseworker. But even if you don't think you will be eligible for unemployment benefits after being fired, apply for them anyway. You have nothing to lose.