Filing for Unemployment: Myth or Fact

Not many things on this earth are totally good. But the only thing wrong with filing for unemployment compensation- granted, it's a biggie-is that you have to lose a job to get it. If you're in that unfortunate category, it's an enormous help. Benefits and rules vary by state, but there's more money in it than in selling homemade lemonade. Still, filing for unemployment myths persist. Let's go over a few of them.

Myth: You have to stand in long lines.
Actually, you don't have to stand at all. You can sign up for unemployment by phone or online. You'll probably be asked to attend one or two seminars on job-hunting skills, but that's the only time you have to appear at the unemployment office. Every week or two (rules differ by state) you have to check in by phone or online and report on your recent earnings.

Myth: They may make you take an inappropriate job.
I know a software engineer who went off to Colorado after being laid off to ski and collect benefits. The unemployment people grabbed him to work on their systems. I also know a tax preparer who tried to collect after her annual April layoff, and was put to work for the IRS. But no one will force a job down your throat. Except for the jobhunting seminars, chances are you'll never see an agency employee, and no one will know or care what you're doing. You may choose to visit your local office, though. Unemployment agencies have good unemployment services like workshops, often given by unemployed HR people. Many offer access to computers with useful things like resume software. Then there's the secret job market: Unemployment agencies work hard to sign up local companies to list their jobs, so you may hear about a job that isn't posted anywhere else. No, you won't have to take it.

Myth: You can't qualify if you quit or are fired, only if you're laid off.
That's the general guideline, but there are exceptions. If you quit because you're aggravated-and such actions as pay cuts and harassment constitute aggravation-you may be eligible. And most people who have been fired can collect. The rule is that if you're fired for gross misconduct or insubordination or illegal activities such as stealing felt-tip pens, you may be disqualified. If you're fired for the reasons that most people get fired, such as inadequate job performance, you won't be. Even if you did steal pens to donate to homeless shelters, don't despair. You can request a hearing, you'll always get one, you'll often win or your employer won't bother to appear, and if that happens you'll get your benefits retroactively. When you first apply, you have to provide your last employer(s) of record. The unemployment people are wired into the state tax collectors, so they'll know what you earned if you were a W- 2 employee (taxes withheld). And if you work as a W-2 employee while collecting, they'll know that too. Which brings us to the biggest myth:

Myth: You can't collect if you're working.
You can't collect an unemployment check if you're making $200,000 an episode to act in a sitcom, but part-time work is fine and can even stretch out your benefits. Say you've been told you'll get $300 a week for 26 weeks. (That's low-benefits arre based on some fraction of recent earninngs- but I picked this number because it's divisible by lots of things.) What it really means is that you'll get $300 times 26, or $7,800, which you can spread out over the next year. So if you earn $150 one week, you report it in your phone call or Web session. You'll be allowed, say, $100 before the deductions kick in. They'll deduct $50 from your next check. But you won't lose it; it'll just be deferred. Do this six times and you'll get an extra week of benefits. If you earn more than your benefit amount plus $100 in a given week, they'll close your claim-but you can reopen it almost automatically. Some states deduct part of your Social Security from your unemployment benefit, but those are dropping by the wayside. Don't expect to squeak by with severance payments, though. Typically your benefits only start when they run out.

Myth: This is welfare money that I shouldn't be taking.
You earned it while you were working. Employers contribute handsomely into the unemployment compensation pool, based on your salary. In other words, it's true insurance. It's paid on your behalf and it's waiting for you to collect if you need it. So Google your state agency. Finding it may not be intuitive: The Workforce Commission in Texas, the Department of Labor and Training in Rhode Island, the Agency for Workforce Innovation in Florida. But you'll be as happy as an unemployed person can be once you get the process started. And you'll probably make enough to buy those felt-tip pens you can't get at the office.

Article provided by Homesteader.

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