Shortcut Navigation:

Where to Go for Help

Unemployment is not just a personal problem. It is also a community problem.

There are a number of services, programs and places to get help of various kinds. It is important that you know where to get help, or how to get information about where to get help, in your community.

Remember, your best source of help is your union, if you have one.

If so, call and talk to your union representative or your AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison or labor agency through your central labor council or state federation.

If You Need Help, Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Don’t hesitate to apply for assistance for which you may qualify. Personal pride sometimes makes it hard to ask for help, particularly for the first time.

But remember, you’ve helped to pay for public assistance programs through your taxes while you were working. And you probably gave to your local United Way campaign or to your church to help make possible the voluntary services you may need.

So you’re making your money work for you now when you need it. And we all need a little help at some time in our lives. Even companies get subsidies and tax breaks from the government during hard times. There is simply no reason you shouldn’t get help as well.

Find Out Where to Go

The place to start finding help is through “Information and Referral”—services that identify your need and direct you to a program or service that’s best for you. That's just what the Unemployment Lifeline is here to provide, so be sure to search for services in your local area.

Ask Your Union Representative

“Information and Referral” services may be provided through your union by one or more of the following:

  • Your local union office,
  • You local union Community Services Committee,
  • A trained AFL-CIO union counselor in your own union,
  • Your AFL-CIO central labor council or AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison, or
  • Your AFL-CIO state federation.

Union Plus ® Programs*

Union Privilege, founded in 1982 by the AFL-CIO, develops and manages the Union Plus programs to help union members and their families save money in their daily lives. Designed especially for union members, many of the Union Plus programs provide the extra help you might need in case you become unemployed. Here’s what some of the programs offer:

  • Union Plus Credit Card—If you carry this union-endorsed credit card, you can skip up to three monthly payments. For more information, call 1-800-522-4000.
  • Union Plus Mortgage and Real Estate— If you have had your mortgage through this program for at least one year, you can apply for benefits through the program’s Mortgage Assistance Fund. For more information, call 1-800-848-6466.
  • Union Plus Life Insurance—Provides a skip-payment provision. For more information, call 1-800-899-2782.
  • Union Plus Loan Program—Offers a convenient skip-payment option. For more information, call 1-888-235-2759.

*NOTE: Not all unions participate in all of the Union Plus programs. Working America membership entitles you to some Union Plus programs. See the benefits page for details.

Talk to Your AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison

There are 180 AFL-CIO Community Services Liaisons across the country. They are union members who work for the AFL-CIO central labor council or state federation, a local United Way or a labor agency. These liaisons work full-time helping people. They are trained to assist union families with problems, including unemployment.

The AFL-CIO Department of Community Services coordinates community services’ activities for the AFL-CIO. They can help you find the help you need. Call them at 202-637-5309.

Locating Help in Your Community

Your community may provide “Information and Referral” services through one or more of the following:

  • United Way is located in 2,300 communities around the country. Many of them fund “Information and Referral” services. Your local United Way may be listed under:
      • Information and Referral.
      • Helpline.
      • Contact (your city or town’s name).
      • Infoline.
    • Office of the state public assistance agency.
    • Catholic Social Services, or Catholic Charities.
    • Salvation Army.
    • Community Action Agency.
    • Department of Veterans Affairs.
    • Public Library.

Financial Assistance Programs

1. Unemployment Compensation

Unemployment compensation is the most important program for the laid-off worker who has been actively employed, in most instances, for 20 weeks or more before job loss.

Unemployment benefits are available as a right (without a means test) to jobless workers who have a demonstrated attachment to the labor force. This requirement varies from state to state, but usually means a worker must have earned a specified amount of wages in more than one calendar quarter.

Workers displaced by plant shutdown, reduction in force, temporary or seasonal layoff or termination without cause usually qualify. In some states, unemployment compensation can be received by locked-out workers. In New York, a worker on strike may receive unemployment compensation after a seven-week disqualification period.

If the “cause” of your termination is in dispute through the grievance procedure or a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charge, you still may qualify for unemployment compensation.

NOTE: Eligibility, benefit levels and procedures for maintaining certification are very different from state to state. Contact your union or the local unemployment compensation office.

File Immediately

File an application at the state unemployment compensation office nearest you immediately upon notification of layoff. Bring your layoff or termination slip from the company or union showing you are out of work. Have identification (driver’s license, Social Security card and/or company ID) with you when you apply.

If You Are Denied Benefits…APPEAL!

While unemployment compensation programs vary widely from state to state, all states have an appeal process if you are turned down for benefits. If you are denied benefits (notification usually arrives within 10 days of application), file an appeal to the determination immediately. In most states, you have only a short time in which to file an appeal.

An appeal is important because some companies routinely report that laid-off employees are ineligible for benefits, but they will not fight an appeal. The companies that do this count on the fact that many laid-off employees will not appeal, thereby saving the company money because the company’s tax rate is based on the amount of unemployment compensation benefits paid to former employees.

Many times, mistakes are made in reviewing applications for benefits. You may have been disqualified in error.

Getting Help With Your Appeal

It helps to have a knowledgeable person or professional help with your unemployment appeal. Some unions can provide assistance or can direct you to the Legal Services Corporation, Legal Aid Society or other legal aid programs to represent you through the appeal process. Contact your local union to see who can help.

2. NAFTA Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)

Under federal law, you are eligible for financial assistance if your unemployment is directly attributable to foreign competition.

Contact your local Workforce Investment Act (WIA) One-Stop Center.

3. Early Retirement (Social Security)

If you are 62 or older, you may choose to take Social Security early-retirement benefits. If you do, you may still return to work if you are rehired. This is a good option for temporary unemployment.

4. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)

TANF is the primary assistance program for low-income families with children. TANF is funded by federal and state governments and commonly is referred to as “welfare.” TANF usually is administered through the state Department of Human Resources or Public Assistance.

Again, benefit levels, eligibility and support services will differ from state to state. In most states, low-income, single-parent families with children under age 18 can qualify. In some states, a family with both parents present is eligible.

In other states, a two-parent family where one is disabled can qualify. Check eligibility requirements in your state.

You may need proof of income, Social Security number, birth certificates for children or other documentation. Call ahead to find out what you need to bring.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Families receiving TANF are eligible for Medicaid coverage for health problems.

5. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is an income program of the federal Social Security Administration. SSI has very narrow eligibility requirements, which means the program is difficult to qualify for.

In general, only those with virtually no income and who don’t qualify for other assistance programs may be eligible for SSI.

Apply at your local Social Security office.

Programs If You're Injured or Disabled

If your unemployment is a result of an injury, severe illness or other physical disability, these programs are for you.

1. Workers’ Compensation

Often referred to as “workers’ comp,” this state program is for workers injured on the job. In some circumstances, an injury sustained traveling to and from work may be covered.

Workers’ compensation laws in most states require that the employer be responsible for all medical bills arising from an on-the-job injury and for payment of lost wages up to a certain level and for a certain length of time. Benefits vary from state to state.

If you were injured on the job, it is extremely important that you seek the guidance of your union or another expert to see that you receive everything guaranteed you by law.

NOTE: A job injury that occurs in federal employment, in railroad employment, at sea or near or over the water may be covered under a different law (i.e., Jones Act, Federal Employees Liability Act, Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act or Federal Employees Compensation Act). Worker benefits under these programs are generally higher than state benefits. Ask your union representative.

2. Social Security Disability

If you are disabled through injury or illness to an extent that will prevent you from working for at least a year or more, apply for Social Security disability benefits. Disability benefits are supposed to provide a minimum income for Americans unable to support themselves because of disability.

It generally takes six months to a year to qualify with even the most extensive disability. Every effort will be made by Social Security to prove that you are physically able to work or that there is some kind of work that you can do with your limited physical ability.

Appeals for Disability Benefits

You may be turned down for Social Security disability. You should file an appeal at the Social Security office and seek legal help with your appeal.

Many private attorneys will take appeals on disability cases because if you win the appeal, Social Security will pay for your lawyer.

The Legal Services Corporation, Legal Aid Society or your local bar association referral service can help you get the legal support you need to win in the difficult disability process.

3. Vocational Rehabilitation Services

If an injury or disability makes it impossible to return to your old job, but you can recover and retrain for another kind of job, you are candidate for vocational rehabilitation.

Vocational rehabilitation usually is provided by state governments and by some nonprofit agencies such as Goodwill, Easter Seals and Rotary centers. Some state trade and vocational schools have special programs for the physically limited student.

Special Programs for the Elderly

1. Senior Citizens Services

Senior Citizens Services (some may go by different names) are voluntary, nonprofit agencies usually funded by the local United Way and the federal government through the local Area Agency on Aging.

Unemployed or underemployed elderly workers may find help through Senior Citizens Services.

Senior Citizens Services provides a wide range of health, recreation and transportation programs for the elderly. Many offer in-home visits or hot meal programs for the homebound.

2. Area Agency on Aging

Area Agencies on Aging often administer grant programs for meals, counseling, health services and transportation for the elderly. Other programs may be available in your area.

Take Action

Protect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has done crucial work to safeguard Americans against the deceptive and abusive practices of big banks, student loan servicers, credit card companies and predatory lenders. Tell Congress to protect this important agency.

Sign the petition. »

Join Us Online