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What are Unemployment Benefits?
While losing a job can be devastating for individuals and their families, unemployment benefits are aimed to provide them with temporary financial assistance during a difficult time.
Through the Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program, displaced workers who are let go through no fault of their own qualify for unemployment benefits.
Various programs exist and choosing the correct one depends on one’s state and situation. The U.S. Department of Labor can help you navigate to the different programs and walk you through applying for them. While each program varies from state to state, all states adhere to the guidelines set by federal law. Let’s look at four ways to apply for unemployment benefits.
1. Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance
Disability insurance will pay you part of your income if you become injured or sick and are unable to work. First, it is important to know that disability insurance is often covered by your employer. There are short-term disability policies and long-term disability policies.
Short-term policies usually cover a few months while long-term policies can cover a few years. It depends on your employer if short-term disability coverage, long-term disability coverage, or both are provided.
There are a few federal disability programs. First, there is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI will pay you if you are insured, have recently worked for an extended time and have paid social security taxes. SSDI will also often pay benefits to the spouse and children of applicants. You can apply by phone, online, or in person. Once the application is approved, there is a waiting period of five months before the benefits start. For more information on applying to SSDI, you can go to the Social Security Disability Benefits Page.
Secondly, there is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a federal program that helps low-income elderly, blind and disabled people. This program gives recipients cash to pay for basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. To see if you would be eligible for this benefit, a free screening tool is provided. You can also apply to SSI by phone, online, or in person.
2. Workers' Compensation for Illness or Injury on the Job
If you happen to become ill or sustain an injury while at work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation. Though it is dependent on the state, most state-mandated workers’ compensation programs require private and state employers to have some form of workers’ compensation.
To contact your state official in charge of workers’ compensation, you can visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s State Worker’s Compensation Page. There are also federally-mandated worker’s compensation programs.
In order to be eligible for federal workers’ compensation, you must be a federal employee, a longshore or harbor worker, a coal miner, or a nuclear weapons worker. These workers are eligible for the Office of Workers' Compensation Program (OWCP).
This federal unemployment benefit provides injured workers with wage benefits while out of work, medical treatment, rehabilitation and other additional benefits. Depending on your employment, you will apply to a different federal employment program office. Additional details and the contact information of these offices are provided on the U.S. Department of Labor’s OWCP Page.
3. Welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a benefits program and although it is run through each state, it is federally funded. Through this program, each state takes its federal TANF grant and operates programs to assist low-income individuals and families who are experiencing hardships.
Each program is designed to help families with food, housing, childcare, job preparation and more. In order to apply and find contact information, you must go through your state TANF program, which can be found on the Office of Family Assistance Page.
To be eligible for your state TANF program, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be a resident of the state.
- Be unemployed or very low income.
- Be either pregnant, the parent of a child under 18, or be head of your household as an 18-year-old or younger.
4. Wrongful Discharge/Termination of Employment
While not technically a federal benefit, it is important to know your rights if you feel that your employer has fired you without good reason, as you may be eligible for compensation through wrongful discharge/termination of employment laws.
Terminating a worker’s employment without rightful cause can be illegal based on federal anti-discrimination laws. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws are federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination based on individual characteristics such as age, race, sex, religion, disability and more.
Each state has slightly different wrongful discharge/termination of employment laws regarding this occurrence and you should contact your state labor office and contact legal counsel for more information. If you have reason to believe that your employer wrongly terminated your employment, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation and extended healthcare coverage.
While seeking information on federal unemployment benefits may seem overwhelming, especially when dealing with the consequences of suddenly losing your job, there are many resources out there to help you.
The U.S. Department of Labor provides information on eligibility, application steps and state contact information. Career One Stop will help you navigate to your state’s unemployment programs. Seeking help can allow you to get back on your feet.
In fact, some research has even shown that receiving unemployment help may positively impact your health. Temporary assistance is provided to assist those in need and taking advantage of these programs can help bring you out of a difficult time.