Unemployment Insurance


Unemployment Insurance Overview

The Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program provides temporary unemployment benefits to eligible unemployed workers. Requirements for eligibility and program administration vary state by state and is determined by state law. Each state administers its unemployment insurance program within guidelines determined by federal law.

Unemployment insurance laws enacted by a state also determine how to calculate eligible recipient benefits, the duration of the coverage, and taxes owed for the program. Every state, except for three different states, tax employers to contribute to benefit funding. The exception is a few states where employees are required to contribute minimal contributions as well. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Unemployment Insurance regularly updates a chart with these provisions by state. The most recent edition was published as of January 2019 and is linked here.  In 2018, eleven states passed legislation related to unemployment insurance.

Careeronestop, a resource sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides a 50-state map of information for each state’s unemployment insurance program, contact information for these state entities and instructions on how to file a claim.

The Federal Unemployment Account (FUA) provides for a loan fund for state unemployment programs to ensure a continued flow of benefits during times of economic downturn.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, the U.S. Virgin Islands currently has loan balances in their Trust Fund accounts.

As of July 26, 2019, the most recent balances of outstanding state loans from the FUA are:


Current Loan Balance

Began Borrowing

Virgin Islands






Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration


There are exemptions for individuals facing differing work situations, including ex-service members, federal employees, workers undergoing effects from a natural disaster, and education workers.

Ex-service members

A partnership between the Secretary of Labor and state unemployment insurance agencies require the same state entities to administer benefits for federal civilian employees and for ex-servicemembers as agents of the United States government. The Unemployment Compensation for Ex-service members (UCX) provides unemployment insurance protection to ex-servicemembers who meet certain criteria. Eligibility requirements can be found here. If an ex-servicemember is eligible for coverage, the state unemployment insurance agency oversees compensation administration. This program also covers former members of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.)

Federal employees

The Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) is the state-administered program unemployed Federal civilian workers can apply to in order to receive unemployment benefits. The UCFE program is administered by state unemployment insurance agencies acting as agents of the Federal government. The program is operated under the same terms and conditions that apply to regular state unemployment insurance. In general, the law of the state in which an individual’s official duty station for Federal civilian service is in will be the state law under which an individual’s eligibility for benefits is determined. In the event of a Federal government shutdown, Federal employees may be eligible for Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE).

Disaster Unemployment Insurance (DUA)

The Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), authorized by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1974, provides financial assistance to individuals whose employment or self-employment has been lost or interrupted as a direct result of a major disaster and who are not also eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor oversees the DUA program and coordinates with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to provide the funds to the state unemployment agencies for payment of DUA benefits and payment of state administration costs under agreements with the Secretary of Labor.

Education Workers

There is a specific provision in federal law that applies to education workers who want to apply for unemployment benefits. This provision prohibits states from distributing unemployment insurance benefits to instructional employees of certain educational institutions between academic terms if they a have a contract for, or “reasonable assurance” of, employment in the second term. This provision does not define educational institutions, leaving states discretion within this classification.  In 2016, the United States Government Accountability Office issued a report on various factors that can affect head start and other early childhood teachers’ eligibility for benefits during summer break.

How is this program different than other programs that aim to do similar functions?

Workers Compensation

Worker’s compensation programs generally provide medical care, rehabilitation, and cash benefits for workers who are injured on the job or who experience an occupation-related illness. The federal government, specifically the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs in the U.S. Department of Labor, administers these types of programs for specific targeted populations including programs for federal employees, longshore and harbor workers, coal miners with black lung disease, interstate railroad workers, among other populations. States administer workers compensation for all others. Each state’s law is unique consisting of coverage requirements, occupation and business-specific requirements, and requirements for who can provide coverage for these services.


The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a state-federal partnership program to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency. States receive federal funding to design and operate a program that meets one of the following purposes:

  • Aid needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes.
  • Reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage.
  • Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
  • Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

The list of TANF state programs can be found here.

Short-time compensation (STC) / Workshare Programs

Short-time compensation programs, also known as workshare programs, provide support for businesses during economic downturns. This policy choice allows for businesses to temporarily reduce the hours of their employees instead of laying them off. Through these programs, employees collect reduced unemployment benefits to partially replace their lost wages. For more information on which states provide them programs, please visit NCSL’s work share program webpage.

Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA)

 The Federal Trade Act authorizes Trade Readjustment Allowances for individuals who have exhausted unemployment compensation whose jobs were affected by imports. These determinations are made by the Department of Labor.  Benefits received under TRA can include paid training for a new job, financial help in making a job search in other areas, or relocation to an area where there are more jobs. State unemployment agencies can be contacted for information on filing a petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance.

Additional Resources