If you're receiving unemployment benefits, you might want to read up on the changes that will soon take hold. Since November of 2009, unemployed Americans have been able to collect unemployment benefits for 99 weeks. This was part of the large response by the Obama Administration to provide relief to those laid off, while helping to stem the sharp decline of the economy at that time. As a result, Americans have collected US$434 billion in unemployment benefits during the past four years.

Although the country as a whole may be slowly emerging from the recent recession, states are still under significant financial stress. Only a handful of states are not operating with a budget deficit, and states like Louisiana, Florida and Georgia face deficits of more than $2 billion. Because many states have depleted their unemployment insurance funds, it has become imperative that states reduce the amount of weeks that their citizens receive benefits.

Fifteen states don't allow seasonal workers to collect unemployment, and many more are considering this restriction as part of their cost cutting measures. Teachers are already restricted from collecting benefits, but contract workers like bus drivers are able to collect benefits in most states. States like Florida have made it more difficult to collect benefits. Since 2011, the state has required applicants to complete an application and skills test. These requirements can only be completed online which is a difficult task for those who can't afford Internet service. These impediments have sparked lawsuits claiming the process is too restrictive.

SEE: The Unemployment Rate: Get Real

The Changes
The changes are tied to each state's unemployment rate, and adjust benefits based on how it compares to the national average. States with unemployment rates below 6% will see benefits cease after 40 weeks. People living in states with rates around 6% will get no more than 54 weeks of checks. States near the national average, currently just above 8%, will receive 63 weeks and those living in states above 9% will get 73 weeks. Other changes will allow states to administer drug tests if an applicant lost his or her job due to refusing or failing a drug test. In addition, states can use federal funds to subsidize employment and implement other innovate programs. An example of such a plan is the Georgia Plan that places those who are unemployed in training positions in exchange for collecting checks.

What If My Benefits Are Being Cut?
First, go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and find your state's unemployment rate in order to get a basic idea of how many less weeks you'll receive. Then, contact your benefits office and ask how much longer you will receive benefits. Although these cuts apply to the Federal program that helped states provide extended benefits, your state is likely planning or has already made changes to its benefits period. For those legitimately unable to work due to disability, check your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

The Bottom Line
With the economy finally seeing a slow recovery, jobs are finally being created or positions refilled. While the latest jobs report was disappointing, America is still seeing a net increase in job creation each month. If your benefits are being cut in the not so distant future, taking a job that is below your skill level removes you from the ranks of the long-term unemployed, a sector that is finding it increasingly difficult to get hired. Once benefits run out, other than claiming disability, states aren't affording the unemployed many other options.

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