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Best and Worst States for Unemployment Benefits – 2017

Where you apply for benefits is dictated generally by where you’ve worked and the source of the wages in the base period used at the time you apply (except for military discharge which allows filing in any one of three places –  state of discharge, state of residence, or home state).

In most cases, benefits are paid by the state in which the work is performed.  Some multi-state employers, however, only report wages and pay unemployment taxes on wages to one state – usually the state with the lowest benefit – regardless of where the work is performed.

Example:  reported instances of Hawaii workers collecting benefits from the State of Tennessee because their Alabama-based employer reported their wages and paid the necessary unemployment insurance taxes to the State of Tennessee.

Amount of benefits vary widely by state, ranging from a low of $235 (Mississippi) to a high $1,113 (Massachusetts, including dependent benefits).  Average benefit duration is 26 weeks, but some states pay as little as 12/13 weeks (FL, NC), and one state (Massachusetts) pays 30 weeks.


Highest Weekly Benefit

MA $742 (w/dependent $1,113) 30 weeks
MN $783 26 weeks
WA $681 26 weeks
NJ $677 26 weeks
ND $633 26 weeks

Lowest Weekly Benefit

MS $235 26 weeks
AZ $240 26 weeks
LA $247 26 weeks
AL $265 26 weeks
FL $275 12 weeks
TN $275 26 weeks
NC $350 13 weeks

Best States for Unemployment Benefits

Higher benefit and claimant-friendly

 Not surprisingly, higher tax states also tend to pay generous unemployment benefits, are far more claimant-friendly, and often offer other family-friendly, safety-net programs.   Among these states, are:

 #1 California

Hands down, even with a somewhat lower benefit rate of $450, CA is the most claimant-friendly state in the country, with:

  • timely processing
  • claimant-friendly ALJs who, on appeal, look for reasons to find FOR the claimant (the majority of appeals filed are won by claimants)
  • flexibility in claim base-period lookbacks and recalculations
  • willingness to pay late-filed claims
  • what constitutes a good cause quit
  • family friendly trailing spouse benefits, which allow benefits for a quit to join a spouse/fiancé who has moved for any reason, and, uniquely, even when a marriage is imminent.

CA also provides paid family leave and extremely generous short-term disability benefits for up to a year.  CA’s SDI program actually pays a higher benefit and for a longer period of time than its unemployment benefit program.

Lastly, CA EDD has an outstanding website and outstanding web resource  – entitled, the Unemployment Insurance Benefit Determination Guide aka UIBDG.  The UIBDG, which has a great search feature, is the first place anyone with CA questions should explore.  You will find most of your answers in the UIBDG.

#2 New Jersey

Provides (1) higher-than average benefit of 60% of average weekly wage for 26 weeks up to $677/week and, (2) unlike other states, does NOT outright deny claimants for minor misconduct issues, instead imposing an 8-week simple misconduct disqualification from benefits after which benefits begin, and (3) allows for three base periods including earnings to the date of discharge in the event you don’t qualify under its other two base periods.  NJ’s partial benefit formula allows claimant to keep 20% of the higher than average weekly benefit before deducting part-time earnings.   NJ also provides a generous short-term disability benefit program, which includes pregnancy.

One drawback, however, is NJ claim approval can often take up to six or seven weeks, especially if an interview is required.  NJ tends to schedule these interviews five weeks after application, assuming it may be imposing the 8-week disqualification, which it commonly does in order to pacify both claimant and employer and avoid an appeal.   Therefore, claimants applying in NJ should not expect payment for at least three weeks, earliest – and that is only if there are no employer/discharge issues.  Appeals in NJ are timely scheduled these days – and appear to be fairly decided.

#3 Massachusetts

On this list because of its very high weekly benefit of $742 + a $25 dependent allowance not to exceed 50% of the WBA which can increase the weekly benefit to a maximum of $1,113, for an unusually long duration of 30 weeks. In addition, MA will use earnings to date of discharge if necessary to qualify claimant, or if doing so would result in a 10% better benefit.

One drawback, Massachusetts can, however, take an  inordinately long time (up to ten weeks) to process a claim, in which case, contacting your elected representative is recommended.

#4 Washington

Although, at the moment, WA is experiencing technology issues and resultant delays in claim processing and phone service,  WA follows its political leanings and generally is quite claimant-friendly.   WA pays a very high benefit of up to $681.  Its partial benefit formula if you work while collecting benefits allows you to keep 25% of your earnings, or up to $170, and deducts the rest from your benefit.  WA is one of the better, more claimant-friendly states, overall.

Worst States for Unemployment Benefits

Low benefits and/or duration and not claimant-friendly

It isn’t coincidental that low-tax states also pay much lower unemployment benefits, for shorter periods of time, and do not offer other family-friendly, safety-net programs such as disability and paid family leave.  Further, the political climates in these states are relatively indifferent to timely processing and payment of claims, and are more skewed to delay and nonpayment of benefits, whenever possible.  Among these states, are:

#1 North Carolina

Over the past three years, North Carolina has been systematically reducing the amount and duration of unemployment benefits, even going so far as to deny federal extended benefits to the long-term unemployed six months before Congress discontinued the program.  The state’s political environment remains unfavorable to the unemployed, with slow claim processing and poor claimant service.

NC pays a somewhat higher benefit of $350 per week for a duration of anywhere between 5-20 weeks.  At the moment, NC’s maximum benefit duration is only 13 weeks, determined by its state unemployment rate.   Further, NC’s partial benefit formula if claimant works, allows claimant to retain 20% of his/her weekly benefit amount before deducting earnings from the benefit.  In other words, if the maximum benefit rate is $350, claimant can earn $70, after which  earnings are a dollar-for-dollar offset to benefits.  In addition, this formula is doubly punitive because it is paid only in a week of less than three (3) customary scheduled full-time days.

 #2 Florida

Pays a very low weekly benefit of $275 for only 12 weeks, determined by state unemployment rate.  In addition, FL tends to be slow processing claims, difficult/impossible to reach by phone, and is not claimant-friendly at the appeal level.   Lastly, FL’s partial benefit formula if you work, only allows you to keep $58 of your earnings, after which earnings are a dollar-for dollar offset to the benefit.

#3 Arizona

Pays a very low weekly benefit of $240 for 26 weeks.  Further, AZ is one of the least-claimant friendly states in the country.  Winning an appeal in AZ is virtually impossible, with AZ often misinterpreting the law or applying the wrong law entirely.  Some claimants have been in litigation for up to a year before AZ has finally recognized the merits of their claim.

One positive for AZ is its partial benefit formula is generous, allowing you to keep 40% of your weekly benefit amount before deducting earnings from the benefit.  In other words, if your maximum benefit rate is $275, you can earn $110, after which there is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your benefit.  Nonetheless, the very low benefit is a significant offset to the advantage of the 40% gross up.

#4 Tennessee

Pays one of the lowest weekly benefits of $275 week, albeit for 26 weeks, and can take eight-ten weeks to process a claim, often longer.    Of late, TN has laid its inability to timely process a claim at the feet of new technology.  Unfortunately, slow processing and a virtual impossibility to reach customer service via phone or callback tag have been long-standing problems in TN going back many years, and the only solution for claimant has been to contact their elected state representative, shortly after which, the claim is approved and benefits paid.

TN’s partial benefit formula, if you work, allows you to keep 25% of your very low weekly benefit amount before deducting earnings from the benefit.  In other words, if you are eligible for TN’s maximum benefit rate of $275, you can earn $68, after which your earnings are a dollar-for-dollar offset to benefits.  Given the low WBA, this formula is not conducive to work.

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