One of first questions a Pennsylvania unemployment claimant usually has is how long he can legally receive unemployment benefits. Like every other state department that deals with unemployment in the U.S., the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (PDLI) sets guidelines to determine how long you can collect. Unemployment benefits are a temporary way to pay basic living expenses while you look for new work. The guidelines are a way for the state to ensure that no one collects the payments indefinitely.
Pennsylvania state law sets the absolute maximum length of time you can receive state unemployment benefits at 26 weeks. However, some claimants won’t qualify for 26 weeks of unemployment payments because of the wages earned in their base years. Your base year is the first four of the last five complete calendar quarters before you applied for unemployment. During those 12 months, you earn a credit week for each week you earned $50 or more in employment wages. If you have less than 16 credit weeks, you’re not eligible for Pennsylvania unemployment benefits. If you have 16 or 17 credit weeks, you can only collect up to 16 weeks of unemployment benefits. If you have more than 17 credit weeks, you can collect up to 26 weeks.
Although the state maximum guidelines cap your unemployment benefits, how you long you can collect payments ultimately depends on how long you remain eligible. To collect benefits, you must be ready, willing and able to work. This means that you have the physical and mental abilities to work for a living. You must also continue to actively search for employment while collecting Pennsylvania benefits. The PDLI may even ask you to present a log of your job search to prove you’ve been looking. Every two weeks, you must certify your unemployment claim through the telephone or online system. You’ll answer questions about your job search and whether you’ve turned down any work opportunities. Even if you initially qualify for the state's maximum payments, you can’t receive them unless you certify your unemployment claim on the telephone or online every two weeks.
Off and On
In some situations, you may find yourself leaving unemployment because you found work. If you lose that job through no fault of your own, you can go back on unemployment. The state maximums may still apply depending on if you’re still in your original benefit year. The benefit year is the 52 weeks that follow your initial unemployment claim. During that year, you are limited to your initial eligibility requirements, including credit weeks. That means that if you collect unemployment for six months, find a job and then lose it again within a month, you’ve used up your Pennsylvania state benefits for the year. However, if you’d only used four months of payments, you’d have another two months eligibility. On the other hand, if the initial benefit year has passed, your maximum weeks cap will start again.
Federal Emergency Benefits
When the U.S. federal government enacts federal unemployment extensions, it gives money to the states to distribute to their citizens in addition to the normal unemployment benefits paid by employer’s premiums. Congress often enacts these extensions during periods of high unemployment across the country. The benefits, although administered by the states, are separate from your state benefits. So you can reach your maximum payments from Pennsylvania, and receive a notice of determination telling you that you’re eligible to receive federal extensions. How long you can collect those federal benefits depends on current federal law and the number of credit weeks you have. The PDLI offers a chart online to help you calculate your eligibility and limits (see Resource section).
- PDLI: Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Handbook
- World Health Organization. "Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (COVID-19)." Accessed April 7, 2020.
- Congress.gov. "H.R. 748—CARES Act." Accessed April 7, 2020.
- United States Department of Labor. "UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE PROGRAM LETTER NO. 15-20." Accessed July 1, 2020.
- Whitehouse. "Memorandum on Authorizing the Other Needs Assistance Program for Major Disaster Declarations Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019." Accessed Sep. 8, 2020.
Michaele Curtis began writing professionally in 2001. As a freelance writer for the Centers for Disease Control, Nationwide Insurance and AT&T Interactive, her work has appeared in "Insurance Today," "Mobiles and PDAs" and "Curve Magazine." Curtis holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Louisiana State University.