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Jobless benefits: Your questions answered

By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney.com contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Extended unemployment benefits may be available for Americans who exhaust their standard jobless insurance -- but the programs, as well as who's included in government data, can be confusing.

Because programs and eligibility standards change frequently, the best thing to do is contact your state's labor division. But here are answers to some common questions.

1. Who is included in the unemployment rate?
Only people who have actively looked for work in the past four weeks are included -- regardless of whether they file for unemployment benefits. The Labor Department conducts a monthly population survey, asking simply if you've sought work in the past four weeks.

As a result, the unemployment rate is not impacted by or related to the number of people who are -- or are not -- eligible to collect unemployment benefits.

2. What is the difference between initial and continuing claims?
The government's initial claims number identifies those people filing for their first week of unemployment benefits. Continuing claims reflect those people filing each week after their initial claim, up to their 26th week. After that, they are no longer counted in that total.

3. How many weeks of unemployment do I get?
A maximum of 26 weeks to start. (Well, except in Montana, which offers up to 28 weeks, and Massachusetts, which has a max of 30 weeks).

Eligibility depends on how long you worked and how much you made prior to becoming unemployed. Not every filer receives the maximum number of weeks available.

4. What if I run out?
You can get at least another 20 weeks in most instances.

In June 2008, Congress passed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which extended the number of weeks available in those states that opted to be a part of the program. All did.

On top of that, those states with an insured unemployment of 4% or higher, or a total unemployment rate higher than 6% can offer another 13 weeks for a total of 33 weeks under EUC.

5. Is there anything after that?
Possibly another 20 weeks.

For those states whose insured unemployment is at 5% or higher, or total unemployment rate is above 6.5%, the federal government will pay for another 13 weeks of benefits. When the total unemployment tops 8%, states may enact a voluntary program to receive federal money for another 7 weeks of benefits. To top of page

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