The unemployment insurance program is part of a federal law signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, during the Great Depression. For the most part, the program is administered at the state level.
A laid-off employee should submit a claim as soon as possible. “I always tell people that even if they have questions about their eligibility to go ahead and file anyway,” says Patrick Joyce, spokesman for California’s Employment Development Department.
Claims typically can be submitted online or on the phone. When filing, applicants will have to provide information such as their address and phone number, social security number, employment history, most recent employer’s federal ID number and address, and the reason why they left their last job.
Compensation depends on an applicant’s employment history, and the payment scale varies state to state. In California, for instance, the minimum a person can receive each week is $40; the maximum is $450. Typically, benefits are paid for up to 26 weeks. In California, where the jobless rate is exceptionally high (9.3 percent in December), a person can receive payments for up to 59 weeks.
Unemployment pay is taxable income and needs to be reported on federal tax returns. “We always inform people of that,” Joyce says, “but some are surprised.”