How to reap the benefits of a layoff

For months you have been hearing about the failing economy but it never really seemed to affect you personally -- until you find that ominous pink slip in your paycheck.

Ok, you've lost your job. Now what?

Welcome to the world of the unemployed. You are not alone -- the New York State Department of Labor reported the state unemployment rate as 5.7 percent in October -- up nearly a whole percent since October 2007. Nationally, unemployment has skyrocketed from 4.8 percent in October 2007 to 6.5 percent in October 2008.

Chris Perham, representing the Department of Labor, said the volume of people calling the office for unemployment benefits - either to file their first claim or re-file for continued benefits - is too much for the current staff and phone line.

"Unemployment was not that high in the recent past, and the number of staff we're funded by the federal government is determined by the unemployment rate," Perham said. Meaning, while the unemployment rate surged, in-office staff has yet to catch up.

Even if your job is currently secure, it couldn't hurt to know what your options will be if your employment situation suddenly changes. And the more prepared you are for that possibility, the easier the process will be and the sooner you will begin receiving benefits.

Perham said, with the current situation, a first-time filer who completes an application with all of the required information would probably be waiting three weeks for their first benefit.

The DoL maze

Unemployment insurance benefits are what most people commonly refer to as "unemployment" - a portion of your former income, paid to you weekly by the state.

The process of qualifying and applying for benefits can seem overwhelming, but the bottom line is, if you were employed in New York state within the last 18 months and unwillingly lost your job, but are willing and able to work, you are probably eligible for benefits, according to the labor department Web site.

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