Special Unemployment Benefits

American workers who are not eligible for standard unemployment benefits or who have exhausted their primary benefits may qualify for special or emergency unemployment compensation.

Numerous Unemployment Insurance (UI) subprograms exist to meet the needs of workers who do not qualify for, are no longer eligible for or are insufficiently served by standard programs. Workers may be eligible to participate in more than one specialized program depending on their work history, state of residence and when they are applying.

For example, unemployed workers may qualify to file for an extension for unemployment benefits if they live in a state experiencing severe long-term unemployment. Former federal civilian employees and servicemembers are eligible for supplemental benefits tailored to their needs. Trade Readjustment Allowance benefits may be available to workers in certain career fields, as well. Finally, FEMA Disaster Unemployment Assistance may be an option for Americans negatively impacted by qualifying disasters.

Extended Unemployment Benefits

Federal unemployment benefits extension regulations allow states to implement emergency unemployment assistance when the state unemployment level reaches and remains at a certain percentage for 13 or more weeks. Under emergency conditions, extended UI benefits become available to qualifying workers who have exhausted their standard benefits. Not all workers who have run out of regular benefits will be eligible to continue receiving assistance.

Unemployment extensions are strictly limited in both frequency and duration. Funding for the extension period comes from combined state and federal resources. In times of nation-wide economic stress, supplemental federally-funded unemployment extensions may also become available. The last such special funding was authorized during the 2008 Financial Crisis and expired in 2014.

Unemployment Compensation for Former Federal Civilian Employees

The Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program has been in existence since 1954. Former federal civilian employees must meet both monetary and non-monetary criteria to qualify for assistance. Eligibility for Federal Employee UI is based on applicants’ wages during a state-defined “base year,” which is also used to calculate recipients’ benefits payments. Most states permit recipients to collect up to $1,000 in benefits for as long as 20 or 26 weeks, depending on their qualifications.

Non-monetary factors for eligibility for the UCFE program typically include applicants’:

  • Cause of separation from employment.
  • Ability, availability and/or refusal to work.
  • Ongoing, documentable efforts to find new employment.
  • Continued compliance with program rules and regulations.

Some applicants may be required to apply for assistance through the states in which they were federally employed, rather than through the states in which they currently live due to programmatic funding structures.

Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Servicemembers

Veterans may qualify for unique unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Compensation for Ex-servicemembers (UCX) program. Former employees of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) can also receive benefits under the UCX unemployment program. All potential veteran unemployment compensation recipients must have separated honorably from the military to be considered for assistance. Additional criteria may also apply.

Related Article: Unemployment Compensation for Former Federal Civilian Employees

UCX benefits are not drawn from the same funding pool as other UI programming. Instead, they are directly funded by the various branches of the U.S. military and NOAA. Maximum benefits allowances, durations and other details are managed by individual states’ UI authorities. Applicants will need their DD-214s or equivalent discharge forms to apply for veterans unemployment benefits.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance

FEMA Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is a federal program that extends support to workers who have been cut off from their jobs or self-employment due to a nationally recognized disaster. Disaster unemployment benefits are managed by state UI authorities and are available only to workers who do not qualify for standard UI benefits. Funding is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Disaster unemployment assistance generally becomes available the first week after a disaster and runs approximately for 26 weeks. Actual funding availability dates can vary, depending on when disasters are federally acknowledged. Applicants may lose their benefits prior to the end of the legally recognized funding period if it is determined that their unemployment is no longer attributable to the disaster and its direct aftermath.

Trade Adjustment Assistance

The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program targets workers in industries that have been negatively affected by the increased importation of manufactured goods or the outsourcing of service positions. Workers may be deemed eligible for assistance individually or as part of a larger group. Applicants may meet Trade Readjustment Assistance eligibility standards if they were employed in the manufacturing, service or public sectors and:

  • Worked for a firm recognized by the International Trade Commission (ITC) as suffering from qualifying market disruptions.
  • Lost their employment as the result of their employers losing business due to imports or outsourcing.

TAA benefits can include both financial support, similar to that of other UI programs, and training. TAA approved training enables workers to “retool” with the skills and certifications necessary to find stable work in alternative fields. Recipients also receive case management services and support finding, securing and, when necessary, relocating to new employment.

Self-Employment Assistance

Self-employment assistance (SEA) is currently available to workers in Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York and Oregon. Other states have the opportunity to begin offering self-employment assistance programs at any time. The goal of existing SEA programs is to reduce unemployment and promote economic growth by providing financial support to entrepreneurs while they establish new businesses.

SEA programs use different methods to determine how much funding applicants qualify for and for how long recipients may continue to receive services. Special consideration may be given to applicants who are considered unlikely to find reemployment before the standard UI benefits for which they qualify run out.

Unlike regular UI benefits, self-employed unemployment assistance is often available to individuals who are already self-employed or enrolled in education or training programs intended to lead to self-employment full time. In most cases, entrepreneurs will qualify for the same amount in weekly benefits that they would have received had they participated in their states’ primary UI program.

Entrepreneurs interested in participating will need to coordinate with their states’ UI authorities to review their full policies, procedures and criteria for collecting unemployment while self employed. Time limits and reporting requirements may apply. Not all entrepreneurs or business start-up activities will be deemed appropriate for program enrollment. Program requirements will vary by state.

Related Article: Self-Employment Assistance

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