4. How Are UI Benefits Calculated?
Calculating Monetary Eligibility and the UI Weekly Benefit Amount
In order to be monetarily eligible for UI, a claimant’s total earnings in their “base period” (see step 1 below for an explanation of “base period”) must equal or exceed the claimant’s weekly benefit amount multiplied by 30. The steps outlined below describe how the weekly benefit amount, the total amount of UI benefits, and the duration of UI benefits are calculated.
Step 1: Figure out the 4 completed calendar quarters prior to the filing of the claim and add up the total wages from these quarters. Calendar quarters are January 1st to March 31st, April 1st to June 30th, July 1st to September 30th, and October 1st to December 31st. The 4 prior completed calendar quarters make up the claimant’s “primary base period.” The claimant may use the most recent wages in an incomplete quarter (called the “lag period”) plus the prior 3 completed quarters, called the “alternate base period,” if the claimant is ineligible for UI using the primary base period, or if using the alternate base period results in at least a 10% higher benefit credit. (See Question 7 for a description of primary and alternate base periods.) Note: The weekly benefit amount excludes any allowance for dependents.
Step 2: Add together the 2 highest calendar quarters of wages in the base period and divide by 26 (the number of weeks in the 2 quarters) to determine the average weekly wage.
Alternative Step 2: If the claimant worked only 2 quarters or fewer in the base period, determine the average weekly wage by dividing the highest (or only) quarter by 13. Note: This formula is particularly problematic for claimants who have worked for 2 quarters and earned fluctuating wages so that the two quarterly earnings vary greatly (due to slow-downs, overtime, payment of wages that are illegally late, etc.), resulting in monetary ineligibility because the average weekly wage is based on earning in the high quarter. Under this formulation, it is often mathematically impossible for total earning to equal or exceed 30 times the claimant's weekly benefit rate. See G.L. c. 151A, § 1(w). This result has a disparate impact on low wage workers who are the most likely to have volatile work schedules and could be easily remedied by calculating the weekly benefit rate based on the average of the wages in 2 quarters rather than determining the weekly beenfit rate on the basis of wages in the high quarter alone.
Step 3: The weekly UI benefit amount is the average weekly wage divided by 2 rounded to the nearest dollar.
Under this 3-step calculation, a claimant is monetarily eligible for UI benefits if her total base period earnings equal or exceed 30 times her weekly benefit rate.
Calculating the Total Amount of UI Benefits
The total amount of UI that a claimant can receive in the benefit year (the 52 weeks after applying for UI benefits) is called the maximum benefit amount (and also referred to as the “total benefit credit.”) The maximum benefit amount is the lesser of 30 times the weekly benefit amount or 36% of the total wages earned during the base period.
Step 4: To determine the maximum benefit amount, calculate which amount is smaller – either 30 times the weekly benefit amount or 36% of the total wages in the claimant’s base period.
Calculating the Duration of UI Benefits
Step 5: Calculate the duration of UI benefits by dividing the maximum benefit amount by the weekly benefit amount. The maximum number of weeks is 26 weeks.
A more detailed explanation of calculating UI benefits can be found in Unemployment Insurance: A Guide to Benefits and Employment Services, available at http://www.mass.gov/lwd/docs/dua/p2594-508.pdf (provided here as a reference and not as an endorsement of its contents).
Claimants can access monetary information (the weekly benefit amount, the maximum benefit amount for the benefit year, and the effective date and end date of the benefit year) through UI Online. Currently the path is: “View and Maintain Account Information,” then, “Monetary and Issue Summary,” then “Status.” Claimants can also obtain information about potential benefits through UI Online by clicking “Estimate Future Benefits” to access the Benefits Estimator Information page.