Monday, December 8, 2008

Unemployed with no job in sight? Here's help

If you've just gotten notice via a dandy little pink (it used to be your favorite color) slip that your services won't be needed any longer, then here's a reason why those long, depressing Dr. Zhivago-esque unemployment lines may be a nice respite from the me-and-half-of-America-has-been-laid-off storm.

How? (Aside from providing the much-needed $350/week sustenance until your career is back on track.) Well, at the end of November, Dubya put a new act in the books to lengthen the period of financial assistance that every laid off worker in the U.S. is entitled to in the current market, which (as you all know) is devoid of many job prospects.

The Unemployment Extension Act of 2008 extends benefits for the unemployed by seven weeks in all states, and extends them for another 13 weeks on top of that in states with unemployment rates that have averaged 6% or higher over the most recent three months. Yippee? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who live in a high unemployment states will receive a total of 20 more weeks and nearly half of the states fit that criteria as of October. (If you're not sure where your state stands, visit the BLS website.)

Here's the 411 on the act:

How you qualify: To be eligible, you must be unemployed through no fault of your own and be actively seeking work. Requirements vary from state to state. Generally, wages earned and time on the job determine if you qualify and the level of assistance you will receive.

For example, In Washington you need to have 680 hours of employment in your base year - which is the first 12 of the last 18 months of work. In Nevada, a person must have earned at least $400 in one quarter of the base year to get help.

What you get: States have their own formulas for determining how much you will receive and for how long, but a general rule of thumb is that you will get half of your last paycheck for 26 weeks, explained Andy Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project.

In most states that is based on what you earned over your base year - up to a certain amount. Every state sets its own maximum, based on that state's average income. The average unemployment insurance benefit is $292 a week according to the Department of Labor.

When you get it: Experts recommend filing for unemployment on your first day out of work. It generally takes two or three weeks after you file a claim to receive your first check. In most cases there is then a "waiting week," and then you will receive your first unemployment insurance check the week after that.

What impacts your benefits: If you work part-time or freelance while you are collecting unemployment that will most likely reduce or eliminate your benefits. The same is true for severance checks in some states. You could still get a partial unemployment check but the formula for determining what percentage of your benefit you could still receive differs by state.

How to get in on the extension: In most states your unemployment insurance will be automatically extended if the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act passes. But to be sure, Stettner recommends calling your unemployment office to ask what you need to do to qualify. [CNN Money]

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