The Basics of Unemployment Benefits: Who Qualifies, How to Apply, How Much You’ll Get

Unemployment insurance is a joint state and federal program that provides those out of work with temporary yet steady income to help them financially. In a big shift, the self-employed now qualify for benefits.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One year after the novel coronavirus pandemic began crippling the U.S. economy – especially the job market – the numbers remain discouraging: 18.2 million Americans were still filing for weekly unemployment benefits as of late February; 770,000 workers filed initial unemployment claims in the week ended March 13; and the unemployment rate – while improving slightly – has plateaued around 6.2%.

For many laid-off workers, this may be their first time dealing with the unemployment-benefits system, a joint state and federal program that provides those out of work with temporary yet steady cash payments to help them financially while finding a new job.

The good news: A new round of stimulus coverage passed by Congress earlier this month – known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – further extends the period for those who’ve filed for unemployment benefits to receive supplemental weekly federal benefits.

Let us help you navigate the changing unemployment-benefits system to get you the help you deserve. The sooner you apply, the better.

Marc A. Wojno
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Wojno was formerly research director for data-intensive projects such as Kiplinger's college and mutual fund rankings. He has worked as a newswire reporter and newsletter editor for Dow Jones, covering convertible bonds, REITs and mutual funds. He also served as market research manager for Keane Federal Systems, an IT consultancy. He received a BA in communications and computer science as well as a MBA from George Washington University.