Unemployment Insurance

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If you work for a school district or an education employer that is preparing a budget for the next academic year, you may have received a preliminary layoff notice alerting you that you are scheduled to be laid off by a specific date. As upsetting as it is to receive a preliminary notice, it does not mean you are definitely losing your job. You may only apply for unemployment benefits once you are unemployed.

These Frequently Asked Questions provide general guidelines to applying for unemployment benefits; contact your local union representative with questions specific to your circumstances.

Am I eligible to receive unemployment benefits? How do I qualify?

If you are laid off and you are ready, willing, and able to work, you typically qualify for unemployment benefits. Generally, you qualify for benefits if you worked and were paid wages in at least two calendar quarters (three-month periods beginning January, April, July and October) and you received at least $1,600 in wages in one of the quarters.

In addition to your primary employment, most other types of work also count toward establishing your eligibility.

To receive benefits, you must show that you are capable of working. If you are sick and can't work, you may qualify for state disability benefits, or workers' compensation if your injury or illness was job-related.

How do I apply?

Visit the Department of Labor Web site, www.labor.state.ny.us or call the automated Telephone Claims Center at 888-209-8124 - patience may be required since the phone lines receive heavy use. Beware of individuals or companies that charge a fee to help consumers complete or file claims. No such service is required. You may file for claims yourself.

When submitting a claim, you should have your:

1. Social Security number

2. New York state driver's license or non-driver ID

3. Current mailing address and telephone number

4. The names and addresses of all employers for whom you've worked within the last 18 months. It may be helpful to have a W-2 form handy when filling out the application.

Don't delay filing a claim because you don't have all the necessary records. The best practice is to file as soon as you lose your job and gather the necessary records as quickly as possible.

When can I file a claim for benefits?

You should file your claim in the first week that you become totally or partially unemployed. It is important to file as quickly as possible because your first week is an unpaid waiting week. Once approved for benefits, you typically receive your first payment in about three weeks. Remember, a delay in filing may cost you benefits.

How are payments made?

Unemployment Insurance is paid on a weekly basis, either directly deposited into your checking account or deposited to a Direct Payment Card - a debit card issued by the Department of Labor through Chase Bank. The department does not issue paper checks.

Direct Payment Cards are valid for three years and carry a MasterCard logo. You can use them to withdraw money or to purchase goods.

How much will I receive?

The amount of your benefit usually is about one-half of your average weekly gross wages, up to a maximum benefit of $405 per week. Your initial benefit rate is determined using information your employer reports to the state. Keep any pay stubs and other proof of your wages. That information will come in handy if you believe your benefit amount is inaccurate. Wages include the monetary value of tips, bonuses, meals and lodging, as well as commissions and vacation pay.

Your weekly unemployment benefit payment is reduced by one-quarter for each day you work or are ineligible due to unavailability or incapability to work or other reasons. If you are re-employed and earn more than $405 in any week, you will not receive benefits for the week.

What is the maximum amount of benefits that I can receive? How long can I receive benefits?

Regular unemployment benefits are pro-rated, depending on your salary, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $405 for 26 weeks. The total maximum amount of regular benefits you can receive is equal to your weekly benefit amount times 26.

If you still have not found employment after exhausting your regular unemployment insurance benefits, you may be eligible for additional Emergency Unemployment benefits. Due to timeframes and deadlines not everyone is eligible for the same benefits. Questions can be addressed to the Telephone Claims Center or by visiting the Department of Labor Web site.

Does the Unemployment Office check up on individuals who receive unemployment benefits?

They might. You must notify them of any work you've done, no matter how slight. There are criminal penalties for making false statements. You must certify on a weekly basis that you remain unemployed.

Do I have to search for work?

Yes, to be eligible for benefits you must be available for work and demonstrate that you are seeking employment while claiming benefits by keeping a written record of your job search activities. You must be prepared to look for employment in fields for which you may be qualified, which could be positions other than education-specific jobs.

Will I be taxed on my unemployment?

Unemployment compensation is fully taxable. However, the federal stimulus law suspends the federal income tax on the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits. After the end of the calendar year, you will receive a Form 1099-G reporting the amount of benefits you received. There is no automatic withholding on your unemployment checks. However, you may have 10 percent of your benefit check withheld for federal tax purposes.

What do I do if my benefits are denied?

Immediately inform your local union representative. He or she will provide guidance, depending on the reasons for the denial. If your benefits are denied, a Notice of Determination will be mailed to you, telling you the reasons why. You are entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge. You have 30 days from the date of the determination to request a hearing. Your request for a hearing must be made in writing and sent to New York State Department of Labor, P.O. Box 15131, Albany, NY 12212.

It's important that you continue to claim benefits according to the required procedure if you are awaiting the outcome of a hearing.

Can I attend school while unemployed?

Section 599 of the Unemployment Insurance Law makes it possible for you to receive benefits while attending a training course or program that your local Division of Employment Services has approved. Approval is based on the type of training, its duration, your need for training and other factors. If you are approved for this program, you are not required to be available for work or look for work.

For more information

Go to the state Department of Labor Web site, www.labor.state.ny.us for additional information on qualifying for benefits. You may also contact the Division of Employment Services Office in your county.