Apply for Unemployment Benefits: Unemployment Insurance

Run, do not walk, to apply for unemployment benefits like insurance the minute you lose your job.

You may have a hard time finding the agency to contact. It can be the Department of Workforce Development (Massachusetts), the Department of Labor (New York), the Employment Development Department (California), the Department of Employment Security (Illinois) or the Agency for Workforce Innovation (Florida).

One thing you won't have to do is visit the agency. Gone are the days when you had to stand in a huge line in a dingy building every week or two, afraid that your friends would see you (not having thought that any friends who saw you would be in the same position), until a gruff inspector barked at you about why you hadn't tried hard enough to find work so far.

Instead, you can file your claim by phone or mail or, in some states, online. You can submit your weekly reports on whether you looked for work the same way. And once you file, all kinds of good news will arrive in the mail about benefits and programs that you may be able to use, such as training grants and assistance with health insurance payments. In many cases you can substitute approved training for job hunting, and even extend your benefits to cover the training period.

Typically you're now asked to keep a log, noting job hunting activities you engaged in on three different days in every week, and produce it if asked. Examples include answering an ad, interviewing, calling a networking contact and attending one of the excellent events staged by your unemployment office.

Collecting
You can collect unemployment if your employer terminated you through no fault of your own, and if you're available for full time work. You don't have to be laid off. You can generally collect if you received a sizeable pay cut, if your employer tried to relocate you to Bangladesh or send you to the mines with the seven dwarfs, if you were fired for poor performance as opposed to misconduct, or if you were coerced into accepting a buyout. The worst that can happen is that your employer will protest, in which case there's a hearing where you have a good chance of winning.

Surprisingly, many employers don't protest. They're sent a form in which they're asked why you left, and they may check a harmless reason. The rate of unemployment tax they pay is partly dependent on their track records, but they often figure that this is outweighed by the expense of preparing for the hearing, attending the hearing and perhaps hiring a lawyer. No one needs to bring a lawyer, but both sides are allowed to be accompanied by people of their choice. So even if you were told you were fired for insubordination or violation of company rules, such as the rule against hitting your superior with a wiffleball bat or the one against spilling grapefruit juice over all the keyboards on your floor, file and hope for the best. It takes two or three weeks for an application to be acted on, and you then you have ten days to file for a hearing which may be held three or four weeks after that, so you'll have time to prepare if necessary.

There is no downside to collecting. You contributed part of each paycheck to the unemployment insurance fund, and now you're getting back what's rightfully yours. It won't turn up on your credit report. No one will know because no one will see you in line.

Most important, there's nothing to stop you from working part time while you're collecting. That's because benefits aren't measured in weeks, but in dollars. They're generally calculated on the basis of your recent earnings, e.g., half your wages up to a certain maximum. Extra allowances for children may be added on top of that. Part of your pension income, if you have any, may be deducted.

OK, say you're slated to collect $400 a week for 30 weeks. Different states have different periods, and extended benefits may change the picture, but you never get less than 26 weeks. That's $12,000, and that's what you're entitled to over a year. Most unemployment laws let you earn a certain amount each week without losing any benefits. If you work part time and exceed that amount, the extra is deducted from your benefits - but it's tacked on at the end so that you can collect over a longer period. If you work full time at a temp job for two weeks, you may not be able to collect during that period but you're eligible for two additional weeks at the end. It's win-win.

Job Hunting Help
Most states have career centers, opportunity centers and netWORKri centers (Rhode Island) where you can attend workshops in resume writing and interviewing, and listen to scintillating guest speakers like me.  You can also use their phones and computers. You'll get access to their job databases, as well as listings from area employers who often call their local career centers when they have openings.

They don't try to browbeat you into going to work, either. It's true that I've known two people in two different states who went in for job search assistance and ended up working for the unemployment agency. But no one expects you to take a job that's inferior to what you had before.

So it's worth dropping in at a career center occasionally even though you don't have to wait in line to plead for your check. Who knows, you may pick a day when Donald Trump has come in for a negotiating skills workshop.

Article provided by Homesteader.

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