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What is the longest you can be on unemployment?

Unemployment insurance programs across the United States are not uniform, the amount paid and length of time vary widely from one state to the next.

The length of time workers can claim UI in each state

Americans who find themselves out of work due to no fault of their own may be able to collect unemployment benefits in their state. The amount that they can receive and the length of time the financial assistance will be paid vary widely across the United States as there is no federal standard.

During the covid-19 pandemic, extraordinary measures greatly expanded unemployment insurance coverage, providing increased amounts and longer periods for jobless workers to collect payments. However, those enhancements were terminated in September 2021.

The period during which eligible workers can rely on the economic lifeline in the majority of states is set at 26 weeks but can range from 12 weeks to over half a year. Here’s a look at how much unemployment benefits states provide residents in their jurisdiction.

What is the longest you can be on unemployment?

The patchwork of unemployment insurance programs across the United States can make for a confusing landscape for workers seeking financial support while jobless. Most of the states provide up to 26 weeks, but that amount may be lower if a state uses a sliding scale to determine the length of benefits. Thirteen states provide fewer than half a year of unemployment compensation and two more. Depending on the economic situation in a state, workers may be eligible for additional weeks of payments or Extended Benefits (EB) when set conditions trigger such measures.

States with more than 26 weeks of UI benefits

Only Massachusetts and Montana provide workers in their states with more than 26 weeks of unemployment compensation.

When a federal extended benefits program is in place, such as during the covid-19 pandemic, Massachusetts provides a maximum of 26 weeks through the regular state-funded unemployment insurance program. However, currently the state provides 30 weeks of benefits to eligible workers who have lost their job.

Montana on the other hand gives workers up to 28 weeks of jobless financial aid.

States with fewer than 26 weeks of UI benefits

There are thirteen states where workers have access to less than 26 weeks of unemployment compensation, but they are broken into two groups. One group has a set state limit to benefits while the other periodically adjust the number of weeks available based on changes in the unemployment rate in the state. Here’s a look a the maximum amount of time benefits can be claimed in each as of publication according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities.

States with a set limit
Arkansas16 weeks
Iowa16 weeks
Michigan20 weeks
Missouri20 weeks
Oklahoma16 weeks
South Carolina20 weeks
States that periodically adjust UI limit
Alabama14 weeks (+5 for workers enrolled in a state-approved training program)
Florida12 weeks
Georgia14 weeks
Idaho21 weeks
Kansas16 weeks
Kentucky12 weeks
North Carolina12 weeks

States that provide the standard 26 weeks of UI benefits on a sliding scale

The following states use a sliding scale for the amount of time that a laid-off worker can claim unemployment benefits, meaning they may or may not be eligible for the full 26 weeks of regular state-funded unemployment compensation:

DelawareRhode Island
IndianaSouth Dakota
NevadaVirgin Islands
New JerseyVirginia
New MexicoWashington
North DakotaWisconsin

The remainder of the states including Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico provide a maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Requirements to claim unemployment benefits

In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, workers need to meet minimum requirements. The state unemployment agency will use a “base period” to determine eligibility, during which time an individual may need to meet a minimum earnings amount which varies by state. The employee may also need to meet state requirements for hours worked during the same time period, among other factors to be eligible for benefits.