Best and Worst States for Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits

BY Sara Korn
Aug 6, 2020
Key Takeaways:
  • Unemployment benefits vary by state.
  • Most states pay between $300 and $600 per week.
  • Some states have waiting periods before you can collect benefits.

Unemployment continues to grow as the COVID recession drags on. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an additional 1,434,000 new unemployment insurance claims were filed across the nation for the week ending in July 25, and nearly the same number of claims were filed the week before. This brings the unemployment rate to 11.6%, with over 17 million Americans now receiving unemployment insurance.

If you’re one of the many Americans now eligible for unemployment benefits, you may be wondering how to get your benefits, how much you’ll get, and for how long. The answers depend a lot on where you live.

Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst states for COVID unemployment benefits, and how you can find benefits information for your state.

How unemployment benefits work

With the unprecedented spike in unemployment, many of us are new to unemployment insurance system and not familiar with how it works. Unemployment benefits are managed by each state (even for federal CARES Act funds), and every state has different rules as far as how much they’ll pay. Some states are known for paying relatively little, or being very slow to pay.

Unemployment benefits are paid weekly, and usually require you to prove that you’re actively looking for a job. Your state may also require you to take any job offer you receive. In other words, refusing a job offer can make you ineligible to continue receiving benefits.

Now let’s look at how states compare when it comes to unemployment benefits during the COVID recession.

Best states and worst states for unemployment benefits

Our version of which states could be called “best” or “worst” is based on a snapshot of the states with the most and least generous benefits in terms of the maximum amount paid out each week, how long you can receive benefits for, and how quickly you can begin receiving benefits.

Best and worst states by amount paid

Most states pay between $300 and $500 per week, totaling around $1200 to $2000 per month. The amounts listed below are the maximum possible weekly benefit in a given state. States may reduce the amount you’re paid if you have income coming in from a side gig or part-time job.

States paying over $600 per weekStates paying less than $300 per week
Massachusetts – $823Mississippi – $235
Washington – $790Arizona – $240
Minnesota – $740Louisiana ­– $247
New Jersey – $713Alabama – $275
Connecticut – $649Florida – $275
Oregon – $648Tennessee – $275
Hawaii – $648
North Dakota – $618

Best and worst states by length of benefits

Every state limits the length of time someone can receive unemployment benefits. If you find a job before that time runs out, your benefits will end once you accept employment. Most states pay out benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks. However, nine states have shorter terms, and only two states go beyond 26 weeks.

States providing benefits for over 26 weeksStates providing benefits for less than 26 weeks
Massachusetts – 30 weeksFlorida – 12 weeks
Montana – 28 weeksGeorgia – 14 weeks
Arkansas – 16 weeks
Alabama – 20 weeks
Missouri – 20 weeks
South Carolina – 20 weeks
North Carolina – 20 weeks
Michigan – 20 weeks
Idaho – 21 weeks

Interestingly, Massachusetts pays the highest per week ($823) and also for the longest time, at up to 30 weeks. On the other end of the spectrum is Alabama, which pays only $275 a week for only 20 weeks maximum.

Best and worst states by speed of processing

Under normal circumstances, most states require a one-week waiting period after you file an unemployment claim before benefits are paid, but most states have waived that requirement due to the COVID-19 recession.

States that have no waiting period at allStates that still require a 1-week waiting period
DelawareNew Mexico
IowaSouth Dakota
New JerseyWisconsin

Unemployment benefits by state

To find your state’s website for COVID unemployment benefits, click on your state on the interactive map from the US Department of Labor

Will unemployment benefits be enough?

Because even the highest paying states only pay up to $600-$800 per week (about $2400-$3200 a month), and the worst states pay as little as $200-$300 per week (about $800-$1200 a month), most people can’t live off their benefits alone. This means many workers look for other ways to generate income and handle debt while out of work.

However, if you decide to take on a side gig to supplement unemployment benefits, make sure you first check your state’s rules on how that will affect your unemployment benefits. Some states will decrease the amount of benefits you receive if you work or earn over a certain amount per week.

How to handle debt when unemployment benefits aren’t enough

If you’re unemployed during the COVID-19 recession, dealing with debt can be hard, especially if you’re struggling to keep up with minimum payments. You may need some new strategies to manage your debt. To learn about your options and figure out what makes the most sense in your current financial situation, download our free How to Manage Debt Guide now.

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