How Long Do Your Unemployment Benefits Last?

The Massachusetts DUA is unclear on the details, but this is how a representative explained them to me:

Massachusetts calculates an unemployment fund for you based on your full unemployment benefit x 30 weeks. Therefore, if your weekly benefit is $300, your unemployment fund is $9,000. If you claim full unemployment every week, you will exhaust your fund in 30 weeks. This is what the Massachusetts DUA means by “You can collect full unemployment for 30 weeks.” [NOTE: When there’s a federal extension in effect, Massachusetts reduces state benefits to 26 weeks.]

However, if you don’t collect full unemployment every week because you work part-time, the money you’re not collecting doesn’t disappear from your unemployment fund. It stays in the fund, and you can keep collecting until it’s gone.

In essence, Massachusetts gives you a limit based on 30 (or 26) weeks of full unemployment. Then you collect as much as you’re entitled to every week until your funds run out, whether that takes you 30 weeks or 40 weeks or 50 weeks.

What happens when your Massachusetts unemployment fund runs out? If there’s a federal extension in effect, you switch over to federal funds. These are administered in exactly the same way, by exactly the same people; the money’s just coming from a different pot. As of February 15, 2009, a federal extension of 33 weeks is in effect. That means you get a second unemployment fund of your base rate x 33, and you claim as much as you can per week until it too is used up.

BUT watch out for the one-year limit. 52 weeks after you first filed a claim, you must reapply for unemployment, regardless of how often you claimed or whether you’re on the extension. Your new claim recalculates your benefits based on you past year’s earnings. If you didn’t earn anything over the past year… you’re not eligible for unemployment. If you did earn wages over the past year, but you’re still collecting unemployment, then you’ll probably see a substantial reduction in your benefits.

In short, if you’ve been reluctant to claim benefits in weeks when you wouldn’t collect much because you didn’t want to “waste a week,” fear not. You’re not wasting anything. Collect as much as you’re entitled to while you look for your next job.