Are gig workers eligible for unemployment benefits?
Yes, under federal legislation, people who work in gig jobs or fill other types of freelance positions now can receive unemployment benefits. Before this law was passed, most of these workers would not have been eligible. That’s good news for people whose gig work has dried up, but it also means the state unemployment departments will need time to figure out how to process these new applications. Contact your state’s unemployment agency to learn more about benefits eligibility under the new federal law.
Do I have to earn a certain amount of money or work for a certain period of time on the job I lost to qualify for unemployment?
Most states have an earnings threshold you must have met on the job you lost in order to claim unemployment benefits. Check with your state for the minimum amount of earnings required. Some states also set a minimum amount of time you must have worked for that employer.
I receive Social Security benefits but was working part-time. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
You can collect unemployment even if you already receive Social Security benefits. In fact, unemployment benefits are not considered wages under the Social Security annual earnings test, so they will not affect your Social Security benefits.
In the past, some states reduced an unemployment benefit if you were receiving Social Security benefits, but all states that had such policies have repealed them.
If I qualify, how long does it take to get a benefits check?
Once you have submitted the required paperwork and have been approved for unemployment benefits, you should receive your first benefits payment in two to three weeks.
How long can I collect unemployment benefits?
Under the new federal stimulus law designed to fight the economic effects of the pandemic, you may be able to claim unemployment benefits for up to 79 weeks through the various federal programs created to offer relief during the pandemic. In most states you can collect unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks (half a year) if you do not find another job during that period and continue to meet your state's requirements for ongoing benefits, such as looking for work and filing the required paperwork regularly. Some states, however, offer less than 26 weeks of benefits.
Do I have to pay taxes on my unemployment benefits?
In general, unemployment benefits are considered taxable income, so the answer would be yes. However, new legislation created just for the pandemic waives federal taxes on the first $10,200 an individual received in unemployment benefits in 2020. Couples who file jointly would not have to pay taxes on the first $20,400 in unemployment benefits. Only individuals and couples who earned less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income in 2020 are eligible for these waivers.
Your state might still tax your unemployment benefits though, so it’s important to set aside money for that obligation, either through withholding from the benefits directly or through savings.
What can I do if my claim for unemployment benefits is denied?
You can appeal the decision, in writing or over the phone, through your state labor department or unemployment agency. A hearing also may be scheduled for you to make your case. There are several reasons beyond the minimum eligibility requirements that people are denied benefits. Some of the most common include not being fully available to work now, having recently turned down other jobs that were suitable or earning some income that was not reported to the agency.
Can I get unemployment benefits if I was fired?
If you were fired for reasons that aren't necessarily your fault — say, the job was a bad fit for your skills — you may still be eligible for benefits. On the other hand, if you violated the company's standards of conduct or stole property or money, for instance, the unemployment department likely will consider the job loss to be your fault and deny you benefits.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with information about the federal relief legislation signed on March 11, 2021.