With an ever-growing number of unemployed workers, the state's Department of Labor & Industry is swamped with people applying for unemployment benefits.

Recent years have brought changes to the unemployment filing process -- there is no longer an "unemployment line" where people wait in line for benefits in York.

So where and how do people file for unemployment?

Today, the York Dispatch lists frequently asked questions, and answers, for the newly unemployed.

HOW DO I FILE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT?
Online: Go to www.dli.state.pa.us, keyword: unemployment. An online application can be filed anytime using the secure Web site.

By mail or fax: Download a paper application and mail or fax it to the number or address listed on the site.

By phone: Call the statewide unemployment compensation services toll-free number at 1-888-313-7284 (TTY services for the deaf and hard of hearing: 1-888-334-4046), from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sundays. If your Social Security number ends in an even number, call on Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday. If it ends in an odd number, call on Monday, Wednesday or Friday.

Call volumes are heaviest on Monday and Tuesday. The best times to call are later in the day, and later in the week, Wednesday through Friday.

If you are having difficulty getting through, try various calling times. The day of the week that you file an initial claim does not affect your benefits. Initial claims filed on a Monday or Tuesday are handled the same as those filed on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

HOW LONG BEFORE I GET MY FIRST CHECK?
Within four weeks of applying for benefits. The first week after applying for unemployment is called the "waiting week." No unemployment is paid for that week.

HOW MUCH UNEMPLOYMENT PAY WILL I GET?
Generally, less than half of your working wage. The lowest weekly benefit rate is $35. The highest is $558. The amount is calculated based on the highest amount of gross wages the applicant earned in one quarter of recent wage history.

If $5,200 is the highest you earned in a recent quarter, your weekly rate of compensation would be $210.

A chart showing earnings and unemployment payment amounts is available at www.dli.state.pa.us, keyword: unemployment.

You may also be eligible for allowances for dependents; $3-$5 for a dependent spouse or child, not to exceed $8 per week.

The federal stimulus package being signed by President Barack Obama Tuesday includes provisions for a $25 increase in weekly benefit checks through 2009.

IF I GOT SEVERANCE PAY, AM I ALSO ELIGIBLE FOR BENEFITS?
Yes. Your check will be calculated in the same manner, regardless of severance.

HOW LONG DO BENEFITS LAST?
Full benefits are paid for 26 weeks, as long as you call in to file your claims biweekly. Depending on when you filed for benefits, extensions could be available under the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Pennsylvania residents can apply for up to 33 weeks of federal emergency unemployment compensation after their state benefits run out, for a total of more than a year. The stimulus package extends benefits by 33 weeks if you file before the end of 2009.

DO I HAVE TO PROVE I'VE SEARCHED FOR A JOB?
No, but the state recommends that you register for work with PA CareerLink Services and unemployed people are expected to search for work.
IF I HAVE A PART-TIME JOB, CAN I STILL COLLECT?
Yes. You may earn up to 40 percent of your weekly unemployment benefit rate without reducing your benefits for the week. For example, you can earn $80 per week working part time if your weekly benefit rate is $200.
WILL I OWE TAX ON THE BENEFITS I RECEIVE?
Yes. All benefits are considered gross income for income tax purposes. It is your responsibility to determine if you owe tax on the benefits. If requested, the tax will be withheld. The stimulus measure also includes a provision to suspend the taxation of unemployment benefits up to $2,400.

-- Christina Kauffman

Source: Pa. Dept. of Labor & Industry, Alan Vandersloot, who directs the United Way's Drop-In Center for the Unemployed.