New Rules for Collecting Unemployment Benefits

In 2012, millions of Americans will lose unemployment benefits as the government phases out two federal unemployment insurance programs. The Extended Benefits program was phased out in August, and the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is scheduled to expire by December. Even if you do qualify for these emergency programs, new federal legislation will require you to do much more to qualify for benefits.   New rules passed by Congress require the unemployed to visit their local One-StopCareerCenter for an in-person assessment if they want to receive federal benefits.  They’ve also made some additional changes that can impact your job search; let’s review what this means to you.

Federal unemployment benefits may be available to you once you’ve exhausted your state benefits – generally 26 weeks. Some states randomly direct some of their citizens unemployed to utilize One-Stop Career Centers during their initial claim period; however, the federal guideline will require all recipients to meet with an employment professional.  Career Centers provide a range of helpful assistance to job seekers. Some of these services include career planning and exploration, job preparation workshops, training, access to resources like computers, fax and copy machines, and supportive services, which may include childcare and transportation.  When you meet with a counselor, they’ll assess your skills, review your employment history, and help you develop a realistic approach to job seeking. This is especially helpful as they can offer advice that can help expand your search to relevant positions in industries you may have otherwise overlooked.

One of the best CareerCenter services is a free review of your résumé. Another is a brush-up on interviewing skills.  It’s a tough job market, and as we’ve mentioned in previous episodes, it’s important to make a good first impression.  Your résumé and interviews have to demonstrate “I’m the best person for the position.” Career Centers can help you in this regard, but sadly they’ve had a tough time getting people to take advantage of their services.  It’s estimated that about one-third of job seekers aren’t scheduling appointments.  Failing to do so causes you to miss out on these valuable services, and perhaps more important, you usually lose your benefits for not meeting with a career professional. Depending on your state, you can visit a center in person or connect to the center through the internet. To find a CareerCenter, you can visit the Department of Labor’s website at www.doleta.gov or call their toll-free help line at (877) US-2JOBS.

These services are being supported by the federal government, which has invested about $450 million in CareerCenter services.  According to the administration, the effort could ultimately save the government money because the jobless find new positions and stop collecting benefits sooner. On average, re-employment initiatives shorten the job search by up to eight weeks. The timing couldn’t be better, because the maximum number of weeks you can collect unemployment benefits has been reduced to 73 weeks, and, as I mentioned, federal benefits will expire at the end of the year.

There are a few things that you want to be mindful of, however.  Lawmakers also overhauled sections of the unemployment insurance system and allow drug tests of certain unemployment beneficiaries. Typically, states will be allowed to screen applicants for illegal drugs if they lost their job due to a failed or refused drug test, or if they are applying for a position that requires testing.  It’s currently unclear if your benefits would be rescinded should you fail the drug test, but it’s best to air on the side of caution. Even if you are not required to visit a CareerCenter, I encourage you to consider doing so anyway, as they’ll help you connect with resources that could reinvigorate your job search. Until next time, I’m Thomas Fox for Cambridge Credit Counseling.

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