How Long Do Unemployment Benefits Last?

Although most states provide unemployment benefits for 26 weeks (or fewer), Congress has passed a number of extension programs to help the unemployed weather tough economic times.

If you’ve lost your job, you are undoubtedly concerned about unemployment benefits. Unemployment compensation is a joint federal-state program, intended to provide some economic support for those who have temporarily lost their jobs, through no fault of their own. Generally, federal law determines the basics, while state law sets specifics such as who is eligible, how much applicants will receive, and for how long.

In normal economic times, states offer unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. (A handful of states reduced the duration of benefits in 2011 to 20 or 25 weeks, in response to state budget shortfalls; Florida reduced its benefit maximum to 12 to 23 weeks, depending on the state’s unemployment rate.) During our current recession, however, the federal government has stepped in to supplement state programs and provide additional benefits. Depending on when and where the employee began claiming unemployment, an employee who is eligible for all benefits available under state and federal law could collect unemployment compensation for up to 99 total weeks, at least until September 2012.

These additional federal benefits are available through two programs:

  • the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, and
  • the extended benefit program.

Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program

The federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program provides additional benefits to those who have exhausted their state benefits. Congress created the EUC in 2008, but has extended and amended it several times to provide continuing assistance to the many Americans who have been forced to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

EUC is available in four “tiers.” Employees who exhaust the state benefits available to them are eligible for EUC. They must then exhaust each tier, in order, before moving on to the next. The tiers are:

  • Tier 1, which provides up to 20 weeks of additional benefits until September 2012, and 14 weeks thereafter.
  • Tier 2, which provides up to 14 additional weeks of benefits, in states with at least 6% unemployment.
  • Tier 3, which provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits until September 2012, and nine weeks therafter, in states with at least 7% unemployment.
  • Tier 4, which provides up to six additional weeks of benefits until September 2012, and ten weeks therafter, in states with at least 9% unemployment.

The EUC program has been extended and renewed several times. Currently, they are set to expire at the end of 2012. Congress may act to renew or extend the EUC program again; to find current information, check the federal Department of Labor’s Unemployment page.

Extended Benefits

An employee who has exhausted all state benefits and all available tiers of EUC benefits can apply for extended benefits. Extended benefits are a joint federal-state program (although it’s currently funded fully by the federal government). This program provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits to eligible employees when state unemployment rates are high; states have the option of offering an additional 7 weeks of benefits (for a total of 20 weeks) when unemployment rates are extremely high. However, most states no longer qualify for the extended benefits program based on their unemployment rates.

For More Information

To get detailed information on your state’s rules, unemployment rates, eligibility requirements, and more, go to the website of your state’s unemployment agency. For links to each state’s agency, see State Unemployment Agencies.

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