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How To Apply For Unemployment

Molly Grace5-minute read
February 21, 2021

Sometimes, for whatever reason, life doesn’t go according to plan. If you’ve recently become unemployed, you might be scrambling to figure out how you’re going to keep yourself financially afloat while you search for a new job.

That’s where unemployment insurance comes in.

Unemployment And COVID-19

Before we get into the nitty gritty of exactly what unemployment insurance offers and how you can apply, we recognize that many of our readers might be here because they’ve suffered a job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of March 2020, federal and state governments have expanded unemployment insurance for those affected by COVID-19 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Under the CARES Act, unemployed workers will receive the usual benefits provided by their state, plus an additional $600 each week. The benefit period has been extended as well, with unemployed workers getting an extra 13 weeks of benefits on top of what their state currently offers.

Additionally, self-employed workers and gig workers (who previously weren’t eligible to claim unemployment benefits) can receive unemployment benefits if they lost work due to COVID-19.

For more COVID-19-specific information, check out our page on where to find financial assistance during COVID-19 as well as our COVID-19 resource guide.

What Is Unemployment?

When people refer to “collecting unemployment” or “unemployment benefits,” they’re generally talking about the unemployment insurance program, which is administered jointly on both a federal and state level.

Unemployment insurance is a form of temporary assistance meant to help workers who have become unemployed through no fault of their own while they search for a new job.

If you believe you’re eligible for unemployment benefits, you’ll most likely file a claim with the state in which you worked. If approved, you’ll begin receiving checks.

You’ll need to continue to file, either on a weekly or biweekly basis, to remain eligible. You’ll also typically be required to be actively searching for a new job to continue receiving benefits. The exact requirements for this depend on the state you’re in.

Where Do Unemployment Benefits Come From?

The unemployment insurance program is almost entirely funded through taxes paid by employers – according to the U.S. Department of Labor, only three states require minimal employee contributions. Employers are taxed a certain amount for each worker they employ.

Unemployment benefits are administered by the state in which the benefits are being claimed. Each state has its own individual program, with different guidelines for things like eligibility or benefit limits. The federal government oversees these state programs to ensure they’re meeting basic requirements and working as intended.

Who Qualifies For Unemployment?

One of the main eligibility requirements for unemployment, regardless of which state you’re in, is that you lost your job through no fault of your own. That means if you quit your job or if you’re fired for misconduct, you typically won’t be eligible to receive these benefits.

You’ll need to meet your state’s requirements for the amount of time you’ve worked and how much you’ve earned.

Unemployment eligibility is also contingent on your willingness to find a new job. Each state has different requirements for what that looks like, so you may be required to apply to a certain number of jobs each week or accept any job that offers an income within a certain percentage of what you previously earned, depending on where you’re located.

Under the CARES Act, unemployment insurance has been expanded to meet the needs of those whose jobs have been impacted by COVID-19. If you aren’t eligible for regular unemployment benefits and your income has been directly impacted by COVID-19, you may still be able to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Check with your state unemployment insurance program to learn more.

How To File For Unemployment

You should begin the filing process as soon as possible after becoming unemployed. It may take between two to three weeks after filing to begin receiving benefits.

You’ll contact your state’s unemployment insurance program to get started. You’ll typically be able to file online, by phone or in person.

When you file, you’ll need to provide some information about yourself, including your Social Security number, as well as paystubs or other documentation showing where you worked and how much you’ve earned over a specified period of time.

Currently, many state programs are struggling to keep up with the amount of claims they’re receiving due to COVID-19. To remedy this, some states have implemented filing schedules to limit the number of people filing on a given day, often based on the first letter of your last name. Be sure to check with your state program before filing to see if there are any restrictions on when you can file.

Check out our table for state-specific information on benefits and where you can go to file.

Unemployment Benefits By State

Below you can see the maximum weekly payment amount for each state program, plus a link to the page where you can file a claim for your state.


Maximum Benefits/Week

How Do I File?



Alabama Department of Labor






Arizona Department of Economic Security



Easy Arkansas Claims



Employment Development Department



Colorado Department of Labor and Employment



Connecticut Department of Labor



State of Delaware

District Of Columbia


Unemployment Insurance Service Center for Claimants



Florida Department of Economic Opportunity



Georgia Department of Labor



Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations



Idaho Department of Labor



Illinois Department of Employment Security



Indiana Department of Workforce Development



Iowa Workforce Development






Kentucky Career Center



Louisiana Workforce Commission






Maryland Department of Labor






Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity



Minnesota Unemployment Insurance



Mississippi Department of Employment Security



Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations



Montana Works






Nevada Unemployment Insurance

New Hampshire


New Hampshire’s Workforce Connect

New Jersey


New Jersey Division of Unemployment Insurance

New Mexico


New Mexico Workforce Connection

New York


New York State Department of Labor

North Carolina


North Carolina Department of Commerce

North Dakota


Job Service North Dakota



Ohio Department of Job and Family Services



Oklahoma Employment Security Commission






Pennsylvania Office of Unemployment Compensation

Rhode Island


Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training

South Carolina


South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce

South Dakota


South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation



Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development



Texas Workforce Commission






Vermont Department of Labor



Virginia Employment Commission



Washington State Employment Security Department

West Virginia


WorkForce West Virginia



Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development



Wyoming Department of Workforce Services


How Much Will I Receive?

As you can see, the maximum amount an individual can receive will depend on what state you’re in. The exact amount you personally receive will be calculated based on how much you previously earned.

Note, too, that unemployment benefits are considered taxable income. You may choose to have the amount automatically withheld from each payment.

Don’t Be Afraid To Seek Assistance

If you’ve recently become unemployed, whether due to larger economic trends such as a recession or your own personal circumstances, you may be eligible for help while you get back on your feet. There are a variety of programs available to those who need short- or even long-term help; however, you’ll usually have to seek out this assistance yourself.

Unemployment insurance helps replace some of the wages of workers who have lost their jobs. Additionally, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) can help unemployed individuals maintain health coverage while they search for a new job.

If you are unable to work due to a disability and need longer-term assistance, you may want to see if you have a disability insurance policy through your employer. You may also be eligible for federal disability programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Insurance.

To learn more about how to manage your personal finances, check out our personal finance learning center.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.