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Most of us would probably prefer not to have to collect unemployment. However, in this day and age, unemployment is a reality, and unemployment rates are high, so information about unemployment insurance is important to have. Remember that unemployment insurance is not a welfare program; you pay for it out of your paycheck and you are entitled to it if you lose your job through no fault of your own (this generally means you are laid off or fired, rather than quitting, but the full definition will vary from state to state).
How Long Can You Collect Unemployment: The Benefit Year

The time period in which a person may collect benefits is known as the “benefit year.” This does not mean that someone can collect benefits throughout the year, it is only a way of standardizing the time period within which unemployment benefits are calculated. In most states, the benefit year is the 52 week period beginning with the first week the employee files the claim. In New York the benefit year is 53 weeks, while in Arkansas, it begins the first day of the quarter wherein the claim was filed, so it can be as short as 40 weeks.

How Long Can You Collect Unemployment: The Base Period

The base period is the period of time used to establish what level of benefits an employee qualifies for. It is the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters in which the employee worked, meaning if you filed a claim in May 2009, your base period would be from January-December 2008. Some states may have alternate or extended base periods to cover people who fail to qualify under this standard.

How Long Can You Collect Unemployment: Number of Weeks

Typically, most states allow an individual to collect unemployment for a maximum of 26 weeks, or half the benefit year. Montana has a maximum benefit of 28 weeks, while Massachusetts goes up to 30 weeks. A few states have a standardized benefit duration, while most have varied durations depending upon the worker. In a state with varied duration, it is possible that the benefit year may include less than 26 payable weeks. The calculation is typically whichever is smaller: 26xWBA or 1/3 BPW. WBA is the Weekly Benefit Amount, so 26xWBA would be the standard 26 week program. 1/3 BPW refers to Base Period Wages, so if a person failed to earn more than three times the standard benefit amount, they will be eligible for fewer weeks of coverage.

How Long Can You Collect Unemployment: Varied Coverage Duration Explained
For example, let’s say the weekly benefit amount is $500. 26 weeks of this coverage is equal to $13,000. 3x$13,000 is $39,000, so if someone earned less than $39,000 during the base period, they would not be eligible for 26 full weeks of coverage. For example, let’s say someone earned only $30,000 during the base period. They would only be eligible for 1/3 of that, or $10,000 of coverage. Since the weekly benefit amount is $500, divide $10,000 by 500, to obtain 20, so that individual would only be eligible for 20 weeks of unemployment coverage. Remember, this is only true in about 40 percent of the states. Other states may have a fixed 26 weeks, while still others may calculate their varied coverage duration differently.
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