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Smart Money

How to file for unemployment

If you find yourself out of work, unemployment insurance benefits can help keep you from depleting any existing savings that you have. Read on to learn more about how to file for unemployment and available COVID-19 State Unemployment resources.

Erica Gellerman • August 24, 2022

In This Article

  1. What is unemployment?
  2. Who can apply for unemployment?
  3. How much could you get from unemployment?
  4. How many hours can I work and still collect unemployment?
  5. How to file for unemployment
  6. COVID-19 state unemployment benefit changes
  7. Final thoughts

Luckily, there are financial safety nets that can help support you if you suddenly find yourself in a difficult situation. For example, if you find yourself out of work, unemployment insurance benefits can help keep you from depleting any existing savings that you have.

At the same time, filing for unemployment insurance can be confusing. So, we’ve put together this guide to help you learn how to file for unemployment, as well as understand changes you might see in the wake of the coronavirus.

What is unemployment?

Unemployment Insurance is a program that provides cash to eligible workers who have lost their jobs. It’s a joint program between states and the federal government, with the federal government establishing guidelines and each state responsible for running their own program.

Who can apply for unemployment?

Usually, unemployment benefits are available to workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own and are actively searching for new work.

Changes are currently being made for people who are affected by COVID-19. For example, the federal government is allowing new options for states to help workers struggling from the impact of the virus. It’s up to each state to adopt these new options, but they include paying benefits when:

  • An employer temporarily requires employees to stop coming to work and ceases operation due to COVID-19
  • An employee is quarantined and can’t attend work, although expects to go back to work once their quarantine is over
  • An employee leaves their job due to risk of infection or to care for a family member

Changes to state unemployment policies are changing frequently in response to COVID-19. You’ll want to check with your state for updates.

How much could you get from unemployment?

How much you’ll receive in unemployment benefits depends on your state and your earnings. Some examples of weekly benefit ranges by state are:

California: $40 – $450 per week

New Jersey: Maximum weekly benefit of $713

Texas: $68 – $507 per week

Washington: $188 – $790 per week

If you’re approved for less than the weekly maximum, you also may be able to qualify for dependency benefits in addition to this amount.

How many hours can I work and still collect unemployment?

Even if you haven’t completely stopped working, you may be eligible for partial unemployment benefits. If your hours have been reduced and you haven’t been able to find additional work, filing for partial benefits may give you the help you need.

Eligibility varies by state. For example, to be eligible for partial unemployment benefits in New Jersey, you can’t work more than 80% of the hours normally worked in the job. In New York, you can’t work more than four days per week and make more than $504 to qualify for partial unemployment benefits.

How to file for unemployment

The process of filing for unemployment can be daunting. Luckily, you can file online or over the phone in most cases.

Processes vary by state, but in general, you can expect the unemployment process to include these steps:

Step 1: Find your state application

You should apply for unemployment as soon as you lose your job. Once you apply for benefits, you may have to begin searching for another job – unless your state has provided an exception to this.

Remember: Unemployment programs are run by your state, so you’ll need to review the state-specific filing requirements.

To file an application, select your state from the map on CareerOneStop, which will give you links directly to your state unemployment insurance programs. From your state website, you’ll see the information necessary to file for unemployment.

Step 2: Fill out your application

To apply for unemployment, you can apply online, over the phone, and in some cases, by mail or fax. In general, you’ll need to provide some basic information to apply. This includes:

  • Your personal information: social security number, amount and duration of separation pay, recall date (if you expect to be recalled to your job), and additional forms if you were in the military in the last 18 months or if you were a federal employee.
  • Your employer information: name and contact information of your employer, your occupation, the beginning and end dates of employment, as well as your reason for separation.

Step 3: Watch the mail

Your state may send you important documents related to your unemployment application, like the determination of your unemployment benefits, your unemployment debit card, and your next steps.

Step 4: Receive your benefits and recertify weekly

If you’ve applied and have been approved for unemployment benefits, you’re on your way to getting your first check.

Some states require a one-week waiting period before you’re able to receive unemployment benefits, meaning that you’ll receive a benefit check starting two weeks after filing the claim. If your state requires a one week waiting period, there’s a chance that they have waived this waiting period due to COVID-19.

After you begin receiving your benefits, you’ll need to recertify your claim with your state weekly. While you are receiving unemployment benefits you’ll also need to actively look for work. Each state has a different process for monitoring that. However, some states have recently adopted emergency measures due to COVID-19 that waive the requirements that you actively seek work while collecting unemployment benefits.

COVID-19 state unemployment benefit changes

Many states are trying to follow the guidelines of the federal government and offer additional unemployment protections for people experiencing job losses or interruptions due to COVID-19. Some of these state changes are listed below.


California has adopted new measures to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, including:

  • If you are sick or quarantined, you can apply for disability benefits
  • If you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member, you can apply for Paid Family Leave
  • If you have to stop working due to your child’s school closure, you may be able to file for unemployment
  • If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations, due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance claim
  • If you are temporarily out of work due to COVID-19 and are expected to return to work within a few weeks, you aren’t required to actively seek work while collecting unemployment benefits

To file an unemployment claim in California, you can file online, over the phone, or by mail. If you’re applying for benefits online, this video walks you through the process.

New Jersey

If you live in New Jersey and your work has been interrupted by COVID-19, there are some additional protections that you should know about. These include:

  • If you have COVID-19, were exposed to COVID-19, or are at risk due to a preexisting condition, you may be eligible for benefits through Earned Sick Leave, Temporary Disability, or Workers’ Compensation.
  • If your workplace closed (temporarily or otherwise) you could be eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • If your hours were reduced, you could be eligible for partial unemployment benefits.
  • If your child’s school or childcare was closed and you’re unable to work, you could be eligible for Earned Sick Leave benefits.

To apply for unemployment benefits, you can use the online application or apply by phone. To apply online, you’ll want to gather your required information (your personal information and employers information) and create an online account. From there, you can submit your application, certify your weekly benefits, and add dependency benefits.


The state of Washington has created emergency rules to help workers deal with the impact of COVID-19. Some of these rules are:

  • If you need to take time off because you’re sick with COVID-19, you may qualify for Paid Family & Medical Leave
  • If you’ve been asked to quarantine by a health official but you aren’t sick, you may qualify for unemployment benefits
  • If your employer has temporarily shut down due to lack of work, you may qualify for unemployment benefits, even if you were a part-time employee.


The state recently adopted emergency rules to help residents impacted by COVID-19. For example:

  • If your work has temporarily closed due to the virus, you may be to qualify for unemployment and you won’t need to actively seek work, like you would under normal circumstances.
  • If you’re required to stay at home because you’re at risk, you’re sick, or you need to care for a sick family member, you qualify for unemployment benefits.
  • If you leave work because your child’s school has closed, you may qualify for unemployment benefits.

You can read the full details of their emergency rules on the unemployment website.


Texas is working to make unemployment benefits faster and easier to receive. For instance, the state has eliminated the one-week waiting period. This way unemployed people can get access to benefits immediately.

Texas is also suspending the requirement that unemployed people prove that they are actively seeking work while receiving unemployment benefits. As this situation continues to develop, keep checking in on the official guidance posted on the Texas State unemployment website.

Final thoughts

Remember: This is an ever-changing situation, and state unemployment rules and benefits are currently being updated. So, be sure to check with your state unemployment program to see if you qualify for benefits. This is important as the cash can really keep your saving account intact while you wait to go back to work.

One final tip, remember to take care of yourself. You got this!

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