Unemployment compensation benefits are weekly cash payment to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Unemployment compensation benefits last six months or longer, depending on economic conditions, or until workers find new work. Unemployment compensation benefits create a safety net for laid off workers and are considered one of the most efficient means of stimulating a distressed economy. Following the great recession, for example, federal stimulus  funding helped states extend unemployment compensation payments for up to 90 weeks.

The federal government created unemployment compensation benefits in 1935. Employers fund unemployment benefits through a tax on payroll. States administer unemployment compensation benefits, under guidelines established by the federal government. 

To qualify for unemployment compensation benefits or insurance, employees must typically work a certain amount of time for any employer during the year or two before their employment loss, and earn a certain amount from their most recent employment. If qualified, employees are entitled to unemployment benefits or insurance, with certain exceptions. Those exceptions, known in some states as “disqualifying reasons,” include voluntary resignations and terminations for cause. 

Unemployment compensation benefits provide some cash when needed most, but not a lot of cash. The maximum weekly unemployment insurance payment in most states is between $400 and $600.

To receive unemployment insurance, employees must be able to work and looking for work. Most states have “anti-fraud” units to prevent employees from receiving benefits when they are not eligible, and to recover benefits from employees who received benefits when they were not eligible for them.

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