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How Long Can You Collect Unemployment?

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If you have been separated from your job or have had your hours reduced through no fault of your own, you may be eligible to file an unemployment insurance claim. It's easy to find out if you qualify by going online to the unemployment division of the state where you worked. For example, if you worked in Florida, just go online and search for "Florida unemployment" and you'll find the state unemployment office website.

You file your claim with the state office, but unemployment insurance is a program administered jointly by the individual states and the U.S. Department of Labor. Guidelines may vary in your state, but federal laws provide guidance on many of the most common unemployment questions.

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How long can I collect benefits?

Federal law says that during each one-year claim period you can collect the equivalent of 26 weeks of total unemployment benefits. The payments need not be consecutive or of a consistent amount. For example, let's say that after working on a job for five years, you are laid off in April. You file a claim for unemployment and you receive unemployment checks for ten weeks. Then you get rehired. You work until November and you get laid off again. You file another unemployment claim (technically, what you are doing is re-opening your existing claim). You will be eligible to receive the equivalent of 16 weeks of payments, not 26. Your claim year ends in April.

Within your claim year, the maximum amount of benefits you can receive would be 26 times your Weekly Benefit Rate. If your Weekly Benefit Rate were $250, you would be entitled to collect a total of $6,500 over the course of your one-year claim period.

Your maximum amount of compensation is determined by your Weekly Benefit Rate. In many cases, you will receive the full amount during each week, and your benefits will end after 26 weeks. But in some cases your weekly payments may be reduced, which means that you could receive payments for longer than 26 weeks but not more than the maximum amount. There are a variety of reasons why your weekly payments may be less than your Weekly Benefit Rate, including:

  • Part-time earnings
  • Pension or vacation pay
  • Severance pay
  • Worker's compensation

For example, let's say your Weekly Benefit Rate is $325. Your maximum yearly amount of claim benefits is 26 x $325 = $8,450. But you get a part-time job that pays you $100 a week. Your weekly unemployment benefits will not be terminated, but they will be reduced to $225. Your maximum yearly benefit is still $8,450, and your checks, if you keep your part-time job, could keep coming for up to 37 weeks.

Extended unemployment benefits

During the current recession there have been measures taken by the states and the federal government to extend the period of unemployment benefits to workers who have use up regular unemployment insurance benefits. To find out the current guidelines, check your state unemployment office website.

Calculations based on each state's unemployment rate act as triggers to determine when a state will extend benefits. When a state is experiencing high unemployment, the basic Extended Benefits program can provide up to an additional 13 weeks of benefits. During periods of extremely high unemployment, some states have also created voluntary programs to pay up to seven additional weeks of Extended Benefits. Current beneficiaries are notified, but the best thing to do is to log onto your state's unemployment website for the most current information.