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Unemployment benefits

Unemployment benefits: how many weeks of compensation are available for every worker?

The state-defined limits on financial support for out-of-work Americans will see benefits vary greatly after the CARES Act expires in late December.

States are able to chose the terms of unemployment insurance for jobless residents. Once the CARES Act has expired this support will be even more crucial.

With the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic looking unlikely to improve in the near future millions of Americans are forced to rely on federal and state-funded unemployment benefits at the moment. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report from earlier this month found that the nationwide unemployment rate had edged down to 6.7%, but that the speed of the economic recovery was slowing notably. In fact in November the number of long-term unemployed (defined as jobless for 27 weeks or longer) rose by 385,000 to 3.9 million.

With such a demand on unemployment compensation programs there is a limit to the amount of support that they are able to offer to people currently out of work. In most states, unemployed workers are eligible to receive up to 26 weeks of regular state-funded unemployment benefits, however that number does vary.

In response to the financial crises suffered by millions during the pandemic 24 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have introduced Extended Benefits to offer greater support.

CARES Act provision expires in December

Signed into law on 27 March 2020, the CARES Act remains the only large-scale financial relief package to have been agreed by Congress and it provided an additional 13 weeks of federally-funded Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance (PEUC). This extra support was available to those who had exhausted their regular state benefits, giving another 13 or 20 weeks of unemployment benefits. It also provided Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to those not covered by regular unemployment insurance, such as the self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers.

However, the $2.2 trillion afforded in the CARES Act was not designed to last forever and failure to agree its successor means that funding has nearly run out. On the 26 December both the PEUC and the federal funding for Extended Benefits will officially expire. The Century Foundation estimate that around 12 million Americans will see their unemployment benefits halted at this point. 

Most states offer 26 weeks of unemployment benefits

Unemployment benefits differ from state to state but the majority have opted to provide an additional 26 weeks of funding for individuals who are out of work during the pandemic. However there are some exceptions to this rule:

Arkansas – provides a maximum of 16 weeks of benefits

Massachusetts – usually provides up to 30 weeks of unemployment insurance, but this drops to 26 weeks whenever a federal extended benefits program is in place (as it is now) or during periods of low unemployment (as was the case in February)

Michigan - normally provides up to 20 weeks of unemployment benefits, but that has risen to 26 weeks during the pandemic

Missouri and South Carolina– both states provide residents with up to 20 weeks of unemployment insurance

Montana – provides a maximum of 28 weeks of unemployment insurance

There are also a number of states who do not have a fixed limit on unemployment benefits, choosing instead to update their policies as the situation changes. Unemployment rates have been particularly volatile during the pandemic and this allows them to react to changing circumstances:

Alabama - currently provides up to 14 weeks of payments for new claimants with an additional five-week extension for those enrolled in a state-approved training program

Florida and North Carolina - currently provide up to 12 weeks of unemployment insurance

Georgia – had offered 14 weeks of benefits but in the covid-19 emergency that has risen to 26 weeks

Idaho - currently provides up to 22 weeks for new claimants, down from 26, due to a drop in its unemployment rate in August

Kansas – had previously been providing 16 weeks of unemployment benefits, but that has been extended to 26 weeks until April 2021 because of the pandemic


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