By Carlton Amir Wynn
When someone leaves prison, they need a job for the same reason as everyone else. They need to support themselves, their family and their communities. But a recent study shows that almost half of the men released from prison can’t find a job. And, of those who can, the median earnings were only $6,250 per year. So, many former prisoners turn to unemployment benefits. People in prison can’t receive unemployment benefits. But you can receive them after your release.
Can you receive unemployment benefits while in prison?
No. The rules for receiving unemployment benefits depends on what state you are in.
In North Carolina, for example, you must meet three requirements. First, you must show that your unemployment is due to no fault of your own. Second, you must show that you earned enough from your job before you became unemployed. Third, you must show that you are able to work, available to work and actively seeking work. Most states have similar or identical requirements.
If you are in prison, you can’t show that you are able to work, available to work and actively seeking work. So you won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits.
You may have received unemployment benefits before you went to prison. If you go to prison, your state will suspend your benefits except for in some rare circumstances. After your release, you can get your benefits back. But you still have to meet the rules.
Can you receive them after your release from prison?
Yes. After your release from prison, you can receive unemployment benefits like anyone else. You only have to meet the requirements described above (or your state’s requirements).
Most of time time, people released from prison can work. They are also available to work and actively seeking work after their release. It is the other two requirements that make things complicated.
Did you earn enough from your last job?
If you went to prison, you may not be able to show that you earned enough in a prior job. To do so, you need to show that you worked for an employer who paid into your state’s unemployment insurance fund. Then you are also need to show that you earned enough wages in at least two calendar quarters out of the last five.
Are you unemployed because of something you did?
If you went to prison, you may also not be able to show that your unemployment is due to no fault of your own. Sometimes your employer might fire you after a criminal charge or conviction. In that circumstance, your unemployment may be your own fault.
You can receive unemployment benefits after your prison release. But you still have to meet your state’s requirements. Doing so after a prison sentence can be challenging. Some prisons offer services to help you determine what benefits you can receive. If you can’t get unemployment benefits, you may still qualify for other benefits and resources.