Riding out the recession: File for jobless benefits quickly

If you lose your job, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Last month, Maryland's unemployment rate jumped to a 15-year high of 5.8 percent.

File for jobless benefits as quickly as possible so that the state can determine your eligibility, says Thomas Wendel, executive director for Maryland's office of unemployment insurance.

You can file by phone or online.

"If you've been fired, or you quit, or it's a lack of work, we will try to determine whether under the law we could pay benefits or not," Wendel said, noting each case is unique.

While you generally qualify for benefits if you are unemployed "through no fault of your own" and are willing and able to work, Wendel says his office acts as "the honest broker" between workers and their former employers to determine eligibility.

Unemployment insurance is generally limited to 26 weeks.

But the federal government approved two extensions, allowing qualified Marylanders to collect up to 20 more weeks.

Benefits are calculated at 54 percent of your weekly check, with the maximum benefit of $380.

Beginning Dec. 1, the state replaced paper checks with a debit card. Expect to file claims every two weeks for continued benefits, according to the state.

Federal standards call for states to pay the first round of benefits within 21 days of the initial filing, though some take longer because of individual circumstances. Maryland has established a 95 percent rate on making payments on time, Wendel says.

Workers who have been denied unemployment insurance may appeal within 15 calendar days from the date the determination was mailed.

For more information, go to www.mdunemployment.com for phone numbers for claim centers across the state and to apply online.

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