What is Unemployment Insurance?
Unemployment Insurance (UI) provides unemployment benefits, usually in the form of weekly payments, to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own, and meet certain other eligibility requirements. UI is administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Labor and individual states.
In 2020, new federal law greatly expanded unemployment insurance. Many workers who were not previously covered are now eligible. You may now be eligible if any of the following are true:
- Your employer permanently or temporarily laid you off due to coronavirus measures
- Your employer reduced your work hours due to coronavirus measures
- You are self-employed and have lost income due to coronavirus measures
- You’re quarantined and can’t work due to coronavirus
- You’re unable to work due to a risk of exposure to coronavirus
- You can’t work because you’re caring for a family member due to coronavirus
December 2020 update: New law passed in December 2020 adds both money and extra weeks to unemployment benefits.
Extra $300. Everybody who currently qualifies for unemployment benefits will automatically receive an additional $300 per week under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefit, which will be paid for 11 weeks, starting at the end of December through March 14.
Extra 11 weeks. The new law also adds an extra 11 weeks to the total number of weeks people can collect unemployment benefits. This is on top of the 13 week extension that had been added by the CARES Act in March 2020, and applies to anyone receiving either state unemployment benefits or pandemic unemployment assistance. If your benefits have already run out, check with your state’s unemployment insurance program to find out if your benefits will be automatically reinstated, or if you need to do anything.
Extra $100 for some self-employed individuals. States may also begin offering an additional federal benefit of $100 per week to people who have earned at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income, but don’t receive the self-employment version of unemployment benefits (called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) because they also had a wage-earning job that made them eligible for state unemployment benefits. States have to reach an agreement with the federal government to offer this benefit, so check with your state’s unemployment insurance program to find out if you qualify. If you do, the extra money would be added to the extra $300 weekly benefit, and would also end on March 14.
Each state develops their own system for delivering these extended benefits. In some cases, you will automatically receive them if you were already receiving unemployment benefits. In other cases, you may need to re-apply. Find details at your state's Unemployment Insurance website.
How do I apply for unemployment benefits?
First, select your state in the Unemployment Benefits Finder, and follow the links to find details of your state's program. You'll see information about how to file in your state.
If your state has specific information related to recent law changes, you will see a link to that information. Please note that states are currently updating their programs to respond to recent federal law changes. If you don't see updated information yet, you should still apply. If you have already applied, then once your state updates their information you will receive your full benefits or be notified if your state needs more information.
Scam alert: CareerOneStop has been notified of a fraudulent use of the name CareerOneStop in messages and emails asking users to pay money to file for unemployment benefits or apply for a job. Please note that CareerOneStop (or any state or federal Unemployment Insurance program) will never charge a fee to provide information or file an application for benefits.
I’m self-employed. How do I file for unemployment benefits?
If you are self-employed or a gig worker and have lost income due to COVID-19, you are most likely eligible for unemployment benefits under a special program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. In most states, PUA is separate from the regular Unemployment Insurance program.
To learn how to file in your state, visit your state's Unemployment Insurance website and read the FAQs or special instructions for COVID-19 unemployment. You can also search your state’s website for “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” or “PUA” or “self-employed unemployment.” Many states require that you first register for regular Unemployment Insurance so if you can’t find information on what to do in your state, trying filing for regular unemployment benefits in your state (do this at your state's Unemployment Insurance website).
As of December 2020, states may also begin offering an additional federal benefit of $100 per week to people who have earned at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income, but don’t receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (benefits for self-employed individuals) because they also had a wage-earning job that made them eligible for state unemployment benefits. States have to reach an agreement with the federal government to offer this benefit, so check with your state’s unemployment insurance program to find out if you qualify. If you do, the extra money would be added to the extra $300 weekly benefit, and would also end on March 14.
When will I get the extra $300 from the December 2020 pandemic relief law?
Each state implements their own system for delivering the extra $300 per week in federal benefits. States are currently clarifying exactly when the extra benefits will begin. Check your state's Unemployment Insurance website for details.
How do I apply for the 11-week extension from the December 2020 pandemic relief law?
In December 2020, new law offers an additional 11 weeks of unemployment benefits for workers who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits and the 13-week extension offered earlier in 2020. Each state implements their own system for delivering these extended benefits. Check your state's Unemployment Insurance website for details. If you do not see information on your state's website, search for "Pandemic Extended Unemployment Compensation" or "PEUC".
Which state do I file in?
You should file your claim with the state where you worked. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, contact the state unemployment agency in the state where you now live for information about how to file your claim with other states.
What do I do if I can’t get through to my state’s website or phone line?
Many state websites, phone numbers, and unemployment systems are overwhelmed by extremely high levels of traffic. State unemployment agencies ask that you have patience if you have trouble getting to a website or filing your claim. They suggest trying at different times of the day, and to keep trying. If you have trouble loading a website page on your computer, you can try your phone instead; sometimes phones have faster Internet connections.
What do I do if I have trouble completing my application?
Most state sites provide a list of FAQs to answer questions you may have including application issues, PIN numbers, and security questions. If you don’t see information about your specific problem, look for a phone number in your state to call.
My state says I need to register for work to be eligible for unemployment insurance. How do I do that?
States have different requirements for unemployment recipients to prove they are ready to work. Some states have waived these requirements. To find your state’s requirements, visit your state's Unemployment Insurance website and look for a COVID-19 page or an FAQ page, or search for ”register for work". If you have trouble finding the information, contact your local American Job Center (many offices are closed but services are available online o by phone). You can also check your state’s job bank to see if registration there is required.
I only have a short work history. Am I still eligible for unemployment benefits?
If you don’t meet your state’s usual requirements for unemployment benefits (typically up to a year of full-time work history), you may still be eligible for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Under this program, states are able to provide benefits to people with shorter work histories. Check your state's Unemployment Insurance website for details.