What Does it Mean When Your Unemployment Benefits Have Been Exhausted?

Unemployment benefits are designed to help a person who currently is without employment to pay his expenses while he tries to find a new job. These benefits are not meant to permanently replace a person's normal salary, as they make up only a fraction of the amount he was earning before and last only a finite amount of time. When a person is no longer eligible for benefits he was receiving, the benefits are exhausted.

Exhausted Benefits

A person can only receive benefits for a certain number of weeks before he can no longer receive them. As of March 2011, a person can receive benefits for 99 consecutive weeks before he is no longer eligible for benefits. At the end of this period, a person no longer receives benefits, and the benefits are said to be exhausted.

State Benefits

Unemployment benefits are first paid by the state. A state allows a person to receive benefits for 26 weeks. However, in March 2011, Michigan passed a law that allows a person to receive only 20 weeks of benefits paid for by the state, making it the only state to offer less than 26 weeks of benefits. When these benefits are used up, a person has exhausted his state benefits.

Federal Benefits

After a person exhausts his state benefits, he can begin to receive benefits paid by the federal government. Federal benefits are only available in certain circumstances. In 2008, in the wake of the financial crisis, Congress voted to allow an extension of benefits. As of March 2011, a person can receive 73 weeks of federal benefits, providing him with a total of 99 weeks of benefits in most states.


The amount of time a person can receive unemployment benefits depends on current state and federal laws. The extension that went into effect in March 2011 may be repealed or extended by a Congress with a different philosophy. When a person is no longer eligible for unemployment benefits, he may be able to receive other kinds of federal or state benefits, depending on his financial situation.