Unemployment Benefits and Other Help for the Unemployed

Discover some of the programs and resources that can help if you lose your job.

Apply for Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment benefit programs pay money to workers who:

  • Become unemployed through no fault of their own.
  • Meet certain eligibility requirements as determined under state law.

How to Apply

You must apply for unemployment benefits through your state unemployment insurance office. Each state has different requirements.

Extended and Emergency Benefits

Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits are available to workers who have already collected all regular unemployment insurance benefits during periods of high unemployment.

Educational Assistance

If you are unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits, visit Opportunity.gov to find education and training opportunities, including help with education costs.

Self-Employment Assistance

Self-employment assistance offers unemployed workers the opportunity to create their own jobs by starting their own small businesses. This is a voluntary program offered by these states: Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Unemployment Benefits and Taxes

Unemployment insurance benefits are taxable. You must report any unemployment benefits you receive as part of your gross income. Visit the Unemployment Compensation website from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

General Contact Information

For additional information about unemployment benefits, contact the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Employment and Training Administration.

Back to Top

Continuation of Health Coverage: COBRA

Learn About COBRA

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives workers and their families the right to choose to continue group health coverage provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time.

Eligibility

There are three basic requirements that must be met for you to be entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage:

  • Your group health plan must be covered by COBRA
  • A qualifying event must occur (for example, voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in the hours worked, transition between jobs, death, or divorce)
  • You must be a qualified beneficiary for that event

If you are entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage, you must be given an election period of at least 60 days to choose whether or not to elect continuation coverage.

How to Get COBRA

Under COBRA, group health plans must provide covered employees and their families with a notice explaining their COBRA rights. Plans must also have rules for how COBRA continuation coverage is offered, how qualified beneficiaries may elect continuation coverage, and when it can be terminated.

For more COBRA information, see An Employee's Guide to Health Benefits under COBRA.

Get More Information or File a Complaint

If you have questions or complaints about your COBRA coverage, contact your plan administrator or the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA).

Note: In some cases, you can change from COBRA coverage to Marketplace health insurance coverage.

Back to Top

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance protects individuals and their families from financial hardship when illness or injury prevents them from earning a living. Many employers offer some form of disability coverage to employees, or you can buy an individual disability insurance policy. 

Types of Disability Policies

There are two types of disability policies:

  • Short-term disability policies have a maximum benefit of two years.
  • Long-term disability policies have benefits that can last the rest of your life.

Employers may offer short-term disability coverage, long-term disability coverage, or integrate both of these as part of a competitive employee benefits package. When purchasing individual disability insurance coverage, you should ask: 

  • How is disability defined?
  • When do benefits begin?
  • How long do benefits last?
  • What dollar amount is promised?

Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income Programs

Both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), and they serve as the largest of several federal programs that offer assistance to people with disabilities.

Back to Top

Workers' Compensation

Workers' compensation laws:

  • ensure that employees who are injured or disabled on the job receive fixed payments.
  • provide benefits for dependents of workers who died due to work-related accidents or illnesses.
  • protect employers and fellow workers by limiting the amount an injured employee can recover from an employer and by removing the co-workers' liability in most accidents.

Private Sector and State/Local Government Employees

Individuals injured on the job while employed by private companies or state and local government agencies should contact their state workers' compensation program for eligibility, assistance, and filing procedures for workers' compensation benefits.

Federal Employees, Longshoremen, Harbor Workers, and Coal Miners

If you are a federal employee, longshoreman, harbor worker, or coal miner, contact the appropriate Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) that applies to you. OWCP representatives can help you with claim procedures.

Workers' Compensation Appeals

The appeals process for workers' compensation varies from state to state. If you received a denial of benefits and you wish to file an appeal, contact your state workers' compensation office for information on how to file.

You may also wish to contact a licensed attorney.

Back to Top

Wrongful Discharge/Termination of Employment

Wrongful termination or wrongful discharge laws vary from state to state. Some states are "employment-at-will" states, which means that if there is no employment contract (or collective bargaining agreement) which provides otherwise, an employer can let an employee go for any reason, or no reason, with or without notice, as long as the discharge does not violate a law.

If you feel you have been wrongfully discharged or terminated from employment, you may: 

  • Contact your State Labor Office for more information on wrongful termination laws in your state.
  • Seek legal counsel if your employer terminated you for any reason not covered under state or federal law.

You may also be eligible for unemployment compensation.

Employers

If you are an employer seeking information about legal termination of employees, you may wish to contact both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and your State Labor Office to ensure you do not violate any federal or state labor laws. You may wish to consult with a licensed attorney.

Back to Top

Welfare or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Learn About Short-Term Financial Assistance

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), also known as welfare, is designed to help families recover from temporary difficulties and move forward. 

Recipients may qualify for help with food, housing, home energy, child care, job training, and more.

Each state and tribal government's TANF program is operated differently, and has a different name.

Benefits Eligibility

Each state and territory decides the specific eligibility criteria that must be met to receive financial assistance payments or other types of benefits and services.

Check with your local TANF office to learn whether you are eligible to receive financial assistance or other TANF benefits and services.

How to Get TANF

Contact your local TANF office to apply for financial assistance.

Report TANF Benefits Fraud

If you suspect possible TANF fraud, contact your local TANF office or contact the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Inspector General's Fraud Hotline.

Learn more about this program for families in need. You may be eligible to receive other government benefits.

Back to Top

Last Updated: May 26, 2017

Do you need help?

Ask us any question about the U.S. government for free. We'll get you the answer or tell you where to find it.

What you think matters!