Know the Law: Unemployment Compensation

A military move is stressful in many ways and the loss of income when the civilian spouse is forced to quit his or her job shouldn’t add to the financial burden. That’s why the majority of states have passed laws approving unemployment compensation for Military Spouses. Normally, employees aren’t eligible for compensation if they voluntarily leave their job, but state legislators have recognized that Military Spouses aren’t resigning voluntarily; they are quitting to accompanying their Service Member to a new state.

What is Unemployment Compensation?

Unemployment compensation provides weekly income to workers who can’t find jobs. Each state has different requirements that must be met in order to receive unemployment compensation, such as minimum hours worked for the employer, the reason for leaving employment, geographical distance between employer and your new location, and if you are actively pursuing other employment opportunities from your new location.

How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits

1. First, know your rights. Research if you currently live in a state that allows the civilian spouse of a transferred Service Member to receive unemployment benefits. Eligibility is based on the rules within the state you left, not your new state of residence. As of August 2012, 45 states and the District of Columbia permit Military Spouses to claim unemployment due to a permanent change of station or PCS. Please note that in Virginia, home to the Pentagon, Naval Station Norfolk, Fort Myers, and Marine Corps Air Base Quantico, Military Spouses are ineligible.

2. Document, document, document.  When quitting your job, be sure to notify your current employer in writing that the reason for your resignation is a military relocation. Always keep a copy of this letter. Most states allow you to resign or quit 30 days before the report date listed on your spouse’s orders, so be careful about quitting too early if you plan to file for unemployment. If you are forced to move on shorter notice, document this situation to support your unemployment claim in your new state.

3. File and follow-up. File for interstate unemployment benefits in your new state’s unemployment insurance office as soon as possible to ensure you don’t miss any deadlines. An interstate claim allows you to receive unemployment compensation from your previous state while meeting the job searching requirements from your new state. Always attach a copy of your spouse’s military orders to your unemployment application, even if the office doesn’t initially request them and list your spouse’s military relocation as the reason you quit your job on all forms. You also may need to provide an official written letter from your spouse’s chain of command as proof of the transfer.

After filing for unemployment and being granted wages, your residency state will require you to register with a local workforce center. You need to show evidence that you are actively seeking employment. In some states, workers are required to attend resume or interviewing classes and even obtain career counseling.

Freeloader Stigma

I first heard about unemployment compensation for Military Spouses from a friend and Air Force spouse in Okinawa, Japan.  Prior to that, I never considered filing for unemployment because I mistakenly assumed that it was only for workers who were laid off. As a Navy newlywed and a recent college graduate, I thought my former employer would be penalized, if I filed. This is false. Generally, the unemployment compensation a Military Spouse receives comes from the state’s general unemployment fund, not the employers’ account. I also thought that I didn’t qualify because I choose to relocate with my husband and that my friends would think I’m a freeloader or lazy if I cashed unemployment checks. With three military moves in seven years, I have completely changed my opinion on this issue. Now I encourage my friends to apply for the benefits and lobby for law changes in states where Military Spouses are ineligible for unemployment.

Here’s the bottom line: Always file for unemployment compensation when you are relocating. If you are denied compensation, appeal the decision and be prepared to explain your situation at a hearing.  You have a right to this weekly income. Just because your Service Member volunteered for the military doesn’t mean that you voluntarily quit your job.

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