How Do State Unemployment Benefits Work?

Explore how unemployment insurance benefits work, who qualifies and how to apply in your state

Being out of work is a situation that no one wants to be in. But if you’ve lost your job or lost income, there could be support available in the form of unemployment insurance benefits. 

Access to unemployment benefits could provide relief during these challenging times. But the process can be complex. And benefits aren’t guaranteed or immediate. So it can be helpful to learn what your options are, how to get started and what you can expect during the process.

Unemployment Insurance Basics

Unemployment insurance is a program administered jointly by the Department of Labor and the states. The program gives cash benefits, usually in the form of weekly payments, to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. 

All states must follow the same federal guidelines—but each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program. That means benefits can vary by state.

If you’re unemployed, the Department of Labor recommends contacting your state’s unemployment insurance program as soon as possible.

How Do I Apply for Unemployment Insurance Benefits?

The Department of Labor says to apply for unemployment benefits in the state where you worked. If you live and work in different states or if you worked in multiple states, the Department of Labor suggests getting guidance by contacting the unemployment insurance program of the state in which you live.

How Can I Find My State’s Unemployment Office?

Here’s a list of links to each state’s unemployment insurance website—Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam are included too. Click on your state to learn more about how your program works and how to apply.

Alabama Nebraska
Alaska Nevada
Arizona New Hampshire
Arkansas New Jersey
California New Mexico
Colorado New York
Connecticut North Carolina
Delaware North Dakota
Florida Ohio
Georgia Oklahoma
Guam Oregon
Hawaii Pennsylvania
Idaho Puerto Rico
Illinois Rhode Island
Indiana South Carolina
Iowa South Dakota
Kansas Tennessee
Kentucky Texas
Louisiana U.S. Virgin Islands
Maine Utah
Maryland Vermont
Massachusetts Virginia
Michigan Washington
Minnesota Washington, D.C.
Mississippi West Virginia
Missouri Wisconsin
Montana Wyoming


Do I Need to Provide Documentation When I Apply?

In general, the Department of Labor says you can expect to be asked for information about things like the addresses of your former employers and the dates you worked there. It may be helpful to gather documents related to your previous work, such as 1099s, tax returns and pay stubs.

Giving complete and correct information can help prevent your claim from being delayed. So having other information ready may also help make the process smoother. That information may include:

  • Employment or contract history for the previous 18 months—including contact info for companies where you worked, dates and hours worked, wages earned, and hourly rates.
  • Proof of identity.
  • Bank account information for direct deposit.

Remember, each state’s claims process is different—and it may take some time for your claim to be handled. But budgeting and planning to figure out what to do while you wait for unemployment benefits could help you get by in the meantime.

[H4] What Happens Once I Start Receiving Unemployment Benefits?

Once you’ve qualified and started receiving benefits, the process may not be over. Some states require people receiving benefits to regularly certify that they’re still eligible for them. Check with your state’s unemployment office for more information.

And while you’re receiving benefits, these questions may be helpful to consider:

  • Are unemployment benefits taxable? Yes, unemployment benefits are subject to federal income tax—and potentially state and local income taxes, depending on where you live. You may be able to have federal taxes withheld up front, which could make things easier around tax time. Saving receipts and tracking how you’re using your benefits could also help you stay organized when you’re dealing with taxes.
  • How will new work or jobs affect assistance? You may be able to accept new jobs while receiving benefits. But be sure to report your income to avoid committing unemployment insurance fraud. You may still be entitled to assistance, but new work could affect how much you receive. 
  • Do I need to keep looking for work? You may be required to certify that you’re still unemployed and actively looking for work. Check with your state about what qualifies as looking for work—and whether it’s necessary.
  • Can I receive a PPP loan and unemployment benefits? Some independent professionals may qualify for both unemployment and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). But use caution if you apply for both. The Small Business Administration has said that getting a PPP loan could affect your eligibility for unemployment insurance.

Watch Out for Unemployment Scams

The Department of Labor also warns applicants to beware of scams. It says unemployment insurance programs will never charge a fee to provide you with information or to allow you to apply for benefits. Learn more about phishing and how to avoid scammers.

Where to Find More Unemployment Resources

If you still have questions about unemployment insurance, the Department of Labor sponsors CareerOneStop. It has answers to frequently asked questions and plenty of other resources.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get support from grants, charitable funds and crowdsourcing efforts. There might also be local options or relief efforts specific to your industry, such as the Freelancers Relief Fund, The Workers Fund and the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

The emotional effect of financial challenges can be tough to deal with. If you’re having trouble, the Department of Health and Human Services has tips for coping with stress that may help.

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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