Dear David: Back in Time…for UI

Is there a time limit on how far back I can go in getting unemployment paid to me? I didn’t claim unemployment when my company let me go, because I received a severance package and I was unaware that I could claim that money.

— Kathleen, Tennessee


First, let me start with some good news: thanks to the 11th-hour deal worked out by Congress and President Obama, many unemployed workers were saved from a very personal “fiscal cliff” of their own. Rather than automatically expiring at the end of 2012, federal jobless benefits were extended through 2013. Too bad they had to wait until the very last minute. What a nail-biter, though it really should have been a “no-brainer”!

This is certainly good news for the more than 2 million long-term unemployed workers who would have been personally affected, but it’s also great news for our economy at large. You can learn exactly why extending unemployment insurance is good for all of us.

Now to answer your specific question: different states have different rules about “backdating” unemployment claims – for instance, some states allow backdating claims for “good cause” – but you would not be allowed to go back, say, 10 years. (I think I read something about the rules of time travel and such…) As a general matter, unemployment insurance is only intended for use at the time that you are unemployed.  When you make a claim, you are able to claim benefits going forward for as long as you remain eligible.  As mentioned, an unemployed worker may be able to get back benefits from the beginning of his or her unemployment, even if he or she did not immediately file a claim, if good cause exists.  But, unless you can figure something out with a souped-up DeLorean, you cannot go back years later and claim benefits for a period of unemployment during which you did not file a claim.

For anyone who is recently unemployed or expecting a layoff sometime soon, you can learn more about unemployment insurance here.

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