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Part 5: Computing Benefit Entitlement

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The following definitions and formulas will help you to understand how the department determines if you have enough wages to qualify for unemployment benefits and will also explain how we compute the amount of total benefits you can be paid and the amount of your weekly payment if you do qualify.

Calendar Quarter

The four calendar quarters of the year are:

1st Qtr: January 1 - March 31
2nd Qtr: April 1 - June 30
3rd Qtr: July 1 - September 30
4th Qtr: October 1 - December 31

Base Period

The first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the week you file an initial claim application for a new benefit year. The wages paid during this period of time are used to determine if you have enough wages to qualify for a claim and to calculate how much you can be paid. The following chart will help you to understand how we determine the calendar quarters in your base period. The four shaded quarters in each row are the base period quarters for a claim started in the far right quarter of the same row.

Example: A claim started in November 2016 has a base period that starts on July 1, 2015 and ends on June 30, 2016.

Base Period Chart

If you do not have enough wages to qualify for a claim using the base period described above, an "alternate base period" will be used. The alternate base period will be the four most recently completed calendar quarters before the week you filed your initial claim application for a new benefit year.

Lag Period

The time between the end of your base period and the week you start your claim. We DO NOT use the wages paid during this time period to calculate your benefit entitlement. However, the wages paid during the lag period may be used in a future claim. In the prior example, the lag period would start on July 1, 2016, and would end on the Saturday before the week your claim was started.

Covered and Excluded Employment

Covered employment is work you perform for an employer who is subject to the Unemployment Insurance law. However, some work is "excluded" (not covered) even when performed for a covered employer. Only wages paid from covered employment can be used to qualify for unemployment benefits and to calculate how much you can be paid. (Excluded employment is one of the eligibility issues listed in Part 6.)

High Quarter

The base period quarter during which you were paid the highest amount of wages from covered employment.

Weekly Benefit Rate (WBR)

The weekly amount of unemployment benefits you are paid when you have no wages or other income during the week. It is 4% of the total high quarter wages from all covered employment. The maximum and minimum benefit rates are determined by UI law. The minimum WBR is $54, requiring high quarter earnings of $1,350; and the maximum WBR is $370, requiring high quarter earnings of $9,250.

The “Weekly Benefit Rate Chart” is a listing of all the weekly benefit rates and the amount of high quarter wages needed for each rate. This chart is available online at https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uiben/handbook/pdf/wbrchart.pdf

Qualifying Wages

To qualify for unemployment benefits you must have been paid wages from covered employment in at least two quarters of your base period. You need:

Benefit Year

You start a benefit year when you file a new initial claim application. A benefit year lasts 52 weeks. When one benefit year ends, the week that you file your next initial claim application will start a new benefit year. During the 52 weeks of each benefit year, there is a maximum amount of unemployment benefits you can be paid. This is called your maximum benefit amount (MBA). Wages that you earn during a benefit year will not increase your maximum benefit amount nor your weekly benefit rate for that benefit year.

You can start and stop claiming weekly benefits as many times as you want or need to during your benefit year, but if you stop filing weekly claim certifications for any reason, you must always reactivate/reopen your benefit year by filing another initial claim application when you want to start filing for weekly benefits again.

Example: If you file a new initial claim application in the week ending 11/19/16, your benefit year begins in that week and ends in the week ending 11/5/17. You would have that entire 52-week period to collect your maximum benefit amount, which would be computed based on wages paid in the base period beginning 7/1/15 and ending 6/30/16.

If you return to work in March of 2017 and stop filing for weekly benefits, the wages you are paid will not increase your maximum benefit amount for that benefit year. If you are again laid off before 11/16/17 and have not been paid all of your maximum benefit amount, you can file another initial claim application to reactivate that benefit year and start filing for weekly benefits again.

If you are still unemployed or partially unemployed after your benefit year ends on 11/5/17, you can start a new benefit year in the next week. To qualify for a new benefit year you must have " qualifying wages." A new maximum benefit amount and weekly benefit rate will be computed for your new benefit year from wages paid in the new base period which begins 7/1/16 and ends 6/30/17.

Maximum Benefit Amount (MBA)

The total amount of unemployment benefits the department could pay you during your benefit year. It is the lesser of 26 times your WBR, or 40% of your total base period wages from all covered employment.

Use your MBA as you would a checking account balance. As you are paid weekly benefits, simply subtract the amount you are paid from your MBA balance to know how much you can still be paid for that benefit year.

Benefit Computation

A benefit computation is generally mailed to you the day after you file an initial claim application. The benefit computation will list the covered employment in your base period and the wages paid to you in each quarter by each of your employers. It lists only those employers whose base period wages can be used to calculate what you can be paid. There are two major benefit computation forms:

You should review the benefit computation form you receive to make sure the information is correct. If there is an error in the amount of wages or if employers are missing, follow the instructions on the back of your computation to file an objection.

Computing Partial Unemployment Benefits for a Weekly Claim When Income was Reported

Partial Unemployment Benefits Calculator

Whenever income is reported on a weekly claim certification, all wages earned in that week are added to other types of income (such as holiday pay, vacation pay, and dismissal/severance pay) to determine the gross income for the week.

The department uses the "partial wage formula" to compute whether partial unemployment benefits are payable and if so, what amount should be paid.

It is possible to receive a partial unemployment benefit payment for a week even when your gross income is greater than your weekly benefit rate (WBR). However, you will not receive benefits if you work a total of 32 or more hours for all employers in a week you are claiming or if your total gross pay is more than $500.00.

The "partial wage formula" used to compute partial weekly unemployment benefits is shown below:

  1. Subtract $30.00 from the gross income
  2. Multiply the remainder by .67 (67%)
  3. Subtract this new amount (including the cents) from your WBR
  4. Round the remainder down to the nearest whole dollar. This is the amount of partial unemployment benefits payable for the week.

NOTE: The smallest unemployment benefit payment that we will issue is $5.00, so if your calculation results in an amount which is less than $5.00, no payment will be made. In addition, if your total gross pay is more than $500.00 you will not be eligible for a partial unemployment payment regardless of your weekly benefit rate.

Example: WBR=$200 Gross Income=$250

  1. $250.00 (Gross Income) minus $30 = $220.00
  2. $220.00 multiplied by .67 = $147.40
  3. $200.00 (WBR) minus $147.40 = $52.60
  4. Round $52.60 down to $52.00

$52.00 is the amount of benefits payable for the week.

Maximum Weekly Earnings

The highest gross income you can earn in a week and still qualify for the minimum unemployment benefit payment is called the "maximum weekly earnings" amount. This amount is not the same for every claimant. The weekly benefit rate (WBR) determines what the maximum weekly earnings amount will be. You can calculate your maximum weekly earnings amount by using the following formula:

  1. Subtract $5.00 from your WBR
  2. Divide the remainder by .67 (67%)
  3. Add $30.00

Example: WBR= $200.00

  1. $200.00 (WBR) minus $5.00 = $195.00
  2. $195.00 divided by .67 = $291.04
  3. $291.04 + $30.00 = $321.04

The maximum weekly earning amount for WBR of $200.00 is $321.04. This means that if gross earnings are greater than $321.04, benefits would not be payable for the week.

If you are not sure if you have too much income for a particular week to be eligible for a partial unemployment payment, you should file a claim for the week and report all of your gross income. The department will determine if any benefits are due.

The “Maximum Weekly Earnings Chart” is a listing of the maximum weekly earnings amount for each weekly benefit rate. This chart is available online at https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uiben/handbook/pdf/mwechart.pdf.

Verifying Your Earnings

The income you report on a weekly claim certification is verified with your employer(s) but your benefit payment is not held while we are waiting for the employer(s) to answer. We will issue your unemployment payment for the week based on the amount(s) you have reported. If an employer gives us a different amount than you reported on your weekly claim certification, we will use the amount reported by your employer to recalculate the benefits due. We send you notice of each adjustment.

When your employer reports a lower amount of income we send you an additional benefit payment and an informational message (Form UCB-17-i) that explains the benefit payment.

When your employer reports higher income amounts and you have been overpaid benefits, we will send you a Notice of Benefit Overpayment (Form UCB-37). If you disagree with the amount the employer has reported or disagree with the requirement to repay, follow the instructions on the form to file an objection.

Retirement Pay Reduction

If you have received a determination stating that a reduction will be made from your unemployment benefit payments because of the retirement pay you are receiving, the reduction will be made automatically from each weekly unemployment benefit payment that you receive. (See Part 6 for more information about how and when retirement pay affects your unemployment benefits.)

Child Support Deductions

If the department receives a child support order from a child support enforcement agency, we must withhold money from your benefit payment to satisfy the obligation. The withheld funds are sent to the child support enforcement agency for distribution. You are advised, in writing, when we receive an order to make this deduction. If you disagree with the amount or feel the order is incorrect in any way, contact the child support agency. Only the child support agency can change or stop the deduction.

Updated: March 5, 2018

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