Unemployment Claims Questions and Answers

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Being unemployed is stressful, and sometimes the unemployment benefits process can add to that stress. It can be difficult to get through to the unemployment office to get help with your questions or resolve issues with your claims.

During times of high unemployment, the process of filing can be even more difficult. Wait times are often longer, and online systems become overwhelmed by the volume of applications. Economic crises can strain application systems that were intended for a far simpler process.

If you are having a problem getting through to unemployment, or an issue with your unemployment claim, the following FAQs will help you navigate the unemployment system and get some answers.

Key Takeaways

  • Unemployment benefits are available for workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own.
  • Guidelines for qualifying vary by state. Check with your state unemployment office for eligibility requirements.
  • The amount of unemployment compensation you'll receive depends on your prior earnings and the amount your state pays to claimants.
  • Unemployment benefits are paid for up to a maximum of 26 weeks in most states.

Unemployment Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Unemployment Insurance?

Unemployment insurance provides compensation to workers who lose their job. Typically, this means being laid off for lack of work, not quitting.


Monetary payments are provided for a specific period of time or until the worker is hired for a new job.

Each state has its own eligibility guidelines for unemployment insurance benefits. These usually include an earnings threshold and a time-worked requirement. In most states, workers who were employed for the first four of the last five calendar quarters meet the requirements for time worked.

You can find information on collecting unemployment benefits and filing a claim on your state's unemployment website. The U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop provides a list of state unemployment benefit programs.

Am I Eligible for Unemployment?

Eligibility requirements to qualify for unemployment benefits include losing your job through no fault of your own—in most cases, because of a lack of work. There are also wage and work requirements which include having worked a certain number of weeks for a certain number of hours each week.

Some states have additional requirements and each state sets its own guidelines for qualifying, so contact your state department of labor for more information.

What Information Do I Need to Apply?

When you apply for unemployment, you'll need to provide information that identifies you and your last employer. Depending on how long you worked at your last position, you may also need to submit information about your previous employment.

State requirements vary, but typically, unemployment programs will ask for information such as the following:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Your driver's license or state ID card number.
  • Your complete mailing address, including street, city, state, and ZIP code.
  • A telephone number where you can be contacted during business hours.
  • The full company names and addresses of all employers that you worked for in the last two years.
  • If you were a federal employee, copies of forms SF-8 and SF-50.
  • If you’re a current or former service member claiming benefits based on your military service, a copy of your most recent form DD-214.

How Do I Apply for Unemployment?

The easiest way to apply for unemployment is online. You may also be able to file a claim by phone, fax, or mail in some states. Here's how to file a claim for unemployment, and information about what you need to file for unemployment online.

Once your claim is approved, you'll need to file weekly to continue collecting benefits. You'll be asked about your job search activities and continuing eligibility for unemployment.

How Much Money Will I Receive?

Just as each state sets its eligibility guidelines, each state determines its maximum monetary benefit. In many states, benefits equal up to half your weekly earnings, up to a certain amount.

In general, these benefits are available for up to a maximum of 26 weeks in most states, less in some states. For example, Florida and North Carolina provide 12 weeks of unemployment, while Montana provides 28 weeks.

During times of high unemployment, unemployed workers may be eligible for additional weeks of compensation.


Some state unemployment office websites offer benefits calculators that you can use to estimate your compensation. To find more information, use CareerOneStop to find your state’s program.

How Are Unemployment Benefits Paid?

Unemployment benefits are typically paid through a direct deposit to your bank account, credit union account, or prepaid card. Most states provide an option to receive benefits through a state-issued prepaid debit card. In some states, a paper check may be an alternative way to receive compensation.

When you're using a bank account or your own prepaid card, you'll need to provide the following information:

  • Name(s) on the account.
  • Bank or prepaid card account number.
  • Bank or prepaid card routing number.
  • Type of bank account (checking or savings).
  • Prepaid card (select checking as the type of account).

Can I Work Part-Time and Receive Unemployment Benefits?

If you lost your full-time job and were only able to find part-time work, or if you held a part-time job and lost it through no fault of your own, you may be able to receive partial unemployment benefits.

For more information, contact your state unemployment office.

I Can't Contact Anyone at the Unemployment Office. What Should I Do?

During times of high unemployment, it can be difficult to reach a real person at the unemployment office. If this happens to you, try the following:

Ask your legislators for assistance: Your state representative may be able to help you get in touch with the unemployment office. In New York, for example, many legislators are assisting unemployed workers with claims issues to get on a list for callbacks from the Department of Labor. Here's how to find your representative. Be prepared to share your claim details and your contact information when you call or email.

Keep calling: Scott Barer, a labor and employment attorney in California, has one word for anyone trying to contact an unemployment office: tenacity—another way to say stubbornness. Barer says, "Sometimes it takes interminable waits on the phone. Sometimes it takes working your way up the chain of command. It almost always takes tenacity."

One of Barer's clients was denied a claim for unemployment benefits. After finally being able to talk to the person at the unemployment office who was handling her claim, and asking to speak with a supervisor, things seemed to go much more smoothly. She was even given an inside phone number so she could reach a live person rather than being stuck on "perma-hold." Barer also notes that once his client prevailed at the appeal, her benefits were paid retroactively to the date of her original application.

What if the Person I Talk to Can't Answer My Question?

Even once you reach someone in the unemployment office, it's possible they will not have the answers to the questions you are asking. Don't give up.

If you can't get the answer you want, Shahrzad Arasteh, the founder of Career Consulting Services, recommends asking to speak with a supervisor or someone who reviews cases. If the supervisor is not there, leave your number and ask that they call you back. If you don't hear from them in a day or two, call the unemployment office again. It may also be a good idea to ask an employee there when the supervisor will be in next so you can wait or call back at a better time.

If you still can't get the answers you're looking for, Arasteh suggests getting in touch with someone at your state's department of labor, explaining your issue, and asking for help.

The unemployment benefits claims process can be frustrating at a time when more frustration is the last thing you need in your life. But patience and persistence will pay off.

Why Didn't I Get My Unemployment Benefits?

There are several reasons that your unemployment benefits could have stopped. The simplest explanation is that you have used up all the benefits available to you.


Benefits vary by state, so unemployment compensation depends on your location and your individual claim.

There could also be an issue with your claim. Arasteh notes that when she worked for a nonprofit workforce-development organization, some of her clients said that their checks had unexpectedly stopped. In some cases, she learned that they had answered "No" to the question of whether they were actively searching for a job, causing the unemployment insurance (UI) claims to be flagged, and their checks to be stopped.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I have to pay tax on unemployment benefits?

Taxes on unemployment benefits you receive depends on the type of program paying the benefits. However, state unemployment benefits are usually considered taxable income and must be reported on your state and federal tax returns.

I stopped receiving my unemployment direct deposit. What should I do?

If your benefits have stopped, and you are unsure why, you should check with your state unemployment office.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "State Unemployment Insurance Benefits."

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "How Do I File for Unemployment Insurance?"

  3. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Policy Basics: How Many Weeks of Unemployment Compensation Are Available?"

  4. Consumer Financial Protection Board. "You Have Options for How To Receive Your Unemployment Benefits."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Topic No. 418 Unemployment Compensation."

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