How to Get an Extension on Your Unemployment Benefits

Wondering how to extend your unemployment benefits? This guide thoroughly explains the procedure to apply for an unemployment insurance extension.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) provides weekly cash payments to employees who are suddenly not working through no fault of their own. This protection works like any other insurance policy, stepping in as a safety net to catch us when a life-altering moment happens. UI programs are administered by individual states with support from the federal U.S. Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration. 

Understanding how to apply for an unemployment extension can get a bit tricky. Generally, these benefits are available to any citizen who is laid off and actively searching for work. However, each state-funded program sets its own eligibility requirements, weekly amounts and length of time that recipients can collect regular benefits. These short-term payments typically last up to 26 weeks, or six months, in most states. 

Massachusetts, Montana, Michigan, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia residents set varying maximums, but most have implemented recent emergency extensions. However, Florida and North Carolina still only pay 12 weeks of unemployment compensation while Alabama caps out at 14. Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas also fall short at 20 weeks. 

Extending Unemployment Benefits

When high unemployment results from an economic crisis, the federal government funds a basic Extended Benefits (EB) program that kicks in after workers exhaust their regular unemployment insurance claim. The last EB program ended in 2012, but recent layoffs caused by COVID-19 measures have reactivated this standby emergency extension. 

Since the expanded time is based on half the maximum number of weeks of the regular UI program, most states provide 13 additional weekly payments. In contrast, Alabama residents receive 7 more checks. The standard timeframe is not guaranteed as claims can be approved for a shorter extension due to a variety of factors. The EB program is not available in Arizona, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah or Wyoming.

Additionally, a few states have an extreme High Unemployment Period (HUP) contingency plan in place. When a HUP is triggered by the state’s unemployment rate, like is currently happening in Washington and Rhode Island, another 7 weeks of support is automatically added. This provides a maximum of 20 extra weeks.

Combined, the regular benefits and extended benefits programs can provide up to 46 weeks of financial support. This equals nearly a year of support to help citizens get back on their feet. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides a handy table to identify the combined regular UI and EB available in each state. 

COVID-19 Extending Unemployment Benefits

Two temporary federal laws launched in March 2020 have greatly expanded the typical unemployment compensation program. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, most people, regardless of the state they live in, will qualify for a minimum of 39 weeks. 

The CARES Act’s Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance (PEUC) program offers an additional 13 weeks of extended coverage. This benefit is available to any worker who is still unemployed after exhausting their regular benefits. Claim dates can be reopened back to July 1, 2019, which means those who were recently disqualified before the pandemic but are still out of work can reapply under the 13-week PEUC benefit. 

The second path of aid comes from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) fund. This benefit will kick in after all others are exhausted to fill the gap so that workers receive a minimum of 39 weeks of support. The maximum extension is based on 39 weeks minus the number of regular and extended payments received. For example, Florida residents receive 12 weeks of regular benefits, 13 weeks under the PEUC extension and 6 weeks of extended benefits for a total of 31 weeks. PUA would then step in to cover the remaining 8 weeks. 

Employees affected by measures taken to contain exposure to the coronavirus that triggered a permanent or temporary layoff, reduced hours, quarantine or leave to care for family are now eligible to collect benefits. Those who are self-employed, independent contractors and part-time, categories of workers who were previously disqualified, may now also receive unemployment payments. 

Under the current legislation, all benefit payments made under PEUC or PUA claims will end on December 31, 2020.

How to Get Extended Unemployment Benefits

  1. When you exhaust your regular state benefits, you can file for an unemployment extension. Most states have a maximum of 26 weeks although some are less. Apply for benefits in the state you work. Contact the state agency where you live if you worked in multiple states.
  2. Apply for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance (PEUC) benefits. This federally funded program under the CARES Act is available in all states to provide 13 additional weeks of benefits. This temporary aid is paid before the regular Extended Benefits.
  3. Apply for the Extended Benefits program if available in your state. Extensions are based on half the maximum time of regular benefits, typically 13 weeks. Extreme unemployment may boost this number by an extra 7 weeks. 
  4. Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Eligibility is limited to those who do not ordinarily qualify for regular benefits or residents of states that do not provide at least 39 weeks of benefits. 

If your extended benefits claims are approved, there will be no change to your baseline payments. However, the additional $600 recipients are receiving each week under the federal CARES Act expires July 31, 2020. 

Not every person who receives regular benefits qualifies for extended payments. Again, state rules and agency decisions determine who is eligible and for how long. When the state opens its Extended Benefits program, it is responsible for notifying all eligible recipients. However, recipients may also request information from their state employment agency. 

Claimants are accountable for filing the paperwork to apply for an unemployment extension. Each state has developed its own process to file for an unemployment extension, so you will need to follow those specific guidelines. Many states are still implementing these new rules amid an unprecedented number of claims and changing rules. This has delayed information communications, created glitches in the filing processes and held up benefit approvals and payments. With all phone numbers, websites and systems overwhelmed, you may need to be patiently persistent in getting your claim pushed through. 

Expanded Support Beyond Unemployment Insurance

Those who are unemployed can seek support from other services offered by their state employment agency even if they do not qualify for regular benefits. Recipients can also tap some of these resources in conjunction with their extended unemployment benefits. 

Money is available through programs like the Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA) and Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). The TRA benefit extends income support payments to employees who lose their jobs due to increased foreign imports. Along with weekly payments, recipients are also eligible for paid training to find another in-demand job and financial assistance with relocation. 

The DUA fund is available to citizens who are affected by a presidentially declared major disaster that results in job loss, inability to work or injury. While payments can be extended for up to 26 weeks, the payable benefit is half of the average state benefit. 

Additional extensions are typically available for state-approved worker education, career readiness and retraining programs. Alabama, which has one of the shortest regular and extended benefits programs in the nation, offers residents an extra five-week extension for enrolling in a training program approved by the state. 

Since each state sets its own regulations and procedures, it is best to check your state agency’s website for current information on how to get extended unemployment benefits. The Department of Labor website is also a valuable resource for following continuing developments in unemployment insurance due to the COVID-19 outbreak.


Frequently asked questions

What are unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits, also known as “unemployment insurance,” is a program run by state governments to help support citizens who have recently lost their jobs via temporary cash assistance. This comes in the form of a weekly check in the mail or direct deposit, based on the amount you were earning previously and how many people depend on you for financial support.

The money comes from taxes that businesses pay the state government each paycycle on behalf of their employees.

How do I know if I’m eligible for unemployment benefits?

You’ll need to check the eligibility requirements in your state, which can be found here.

Because of COVID-19, self-employed workers and gig workers are newly eligible for assistance, so pay close attention to any updated materials.

How long can I receive unemployment benefits?

After filing a claim, those who are eligible can receive assistance for usually up to 26-weeks, but this has increased an additional 13-weeks because of COVID-19.

Will unemployment benefits have to be paid back? Will I have to pay taxes on the money?

As long as you are following the rules of the program, which are specific to each state, the money will not have to be paid back. You will be required to pay a tax of 10% on the funding, which you can choose to have withheld from the check or to pay while filing your annual state/federal taxes at a later date.

Please note that it is illegal to file a claim for unemployment benefits if you do not meet the requirements. If caught, you face a penalty of even more than the amount received in assistance.

How do I apply for unemployment benefits?

Complete the quiz at the top of the page to be directed to your state's online benefit application.