"How much can I get on unemployment?" is a common question from unemployment claimants. The answer isn't a simple one because your weekly benefit amount and maximum benefit amount depend on your previous wages. You also are limited by the state's maximum laws for both amounts. In addition to the state unemployment benefits, you may qualify for the federal extensions of benefits. As of 2011, there are four tiers of extensions and you could collect up to 99 weeks of unemployment between your regular unemployment and the extensions.
Weekly Benefit Amount
Unemployment benefits are divided into weekly benefits. For each week of unemployment, you have an eligible amount you can collect called the weekly benefit amount (WBA). Your WBA is determined by reviewing your previous wages. The state looks at your base period, which is the first four of the last five full calendar quarters before you filed for benefits. During the base period, the state totals your wages from employment where the employer paid into the unemployment insurance fund based on your salary. You receive half of your averages base period salary each week as a WBA.
Maximum Benefit Amount
The next thing to consider is the maximum benefit amount (MBA), which is the most you're eligible to receive per claim. Depending on your state, your maximum benefit amount is either a percentage of your total base period wages or the number of credit weeks you accrued times your WBA. MBAs last the entire benefit year, the 52 weeks that follow your initial claim. If you go on and off unemployment during one benefit year, your MBA still applies.
While your MBA and WBA are based on your base period wages, your state also sets maximums on both amounts. This keeps anyone from receiving overly large unemployment payments and also prevents anyone from collecting unemployment all year long. The maximum WBA is based on what the average worker would receive on unemployment. The MBA is usually 26 weeks or half of your benefit year. The maximums can vary by state so check with your state's labour office for the specifics that apply to you.
Federal Unemployment Benefits
When national unemployment rates are high, the federal government can pass laws to extend unemployment benefits. These benefits are in addition to your regular state benefits because the federal government funds them and decides how long you can collect them. Your state labour office still receives the applications for federal extensions and distributes the corresponding payments. How much you can receive on a federal extension depends on the tier and state in question. However, as of March 2011, some claimants can receive as much as 73 additional weeks of unemployment benefits if they qualify for every tier of extensions.