Unemployment benefits may seem like “welfare” to many. But they are different. Many people are reluctant to apply for and receive “welfare” thinking that they are sponging off the government. Sometimes people lump unemployment benefits into the mix, fearing that unemployment insurance is also a kind of sponging off the government. But unemployment is an insurance policy, which is very different than income-based assistance for low-income people.
In Oklahoma, the state administers both unemployment benefits for eligible employees who have been separated from work through no fault of their own and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF is what we typically think of as welfare.
How Unemployment Benefits Differ From Welfare
While both programs are a safety net during times of financial trouble, there are differences between the two programs.
Welfare had its genesis in the idea of providing financial assistance to widows who had young children at home in the 1930s. This financial assistance was based upon the premise that young children needed a mother at home until the children were old enough to begin attending school.
While welfare has changed quite a bit since its inception, it is still a temporary benefit and many states now require that the mother collecting benefits be enrolled or working toward some sort of employment or job training.
TANF provides a maximum amount of $292 per month for an adult with two children. Persons receiving TANF also receive child support collection services. Food stamps or SNAP is another form of welfare. These benefits are primarily used by families with children who experience food insecurity. TANF is federally funded but is state administered.
Unemployment benefits are also a temporary safety net but do not carry the negative stigma of collecting welfare. In part, this may be because of how the programs are funded. While “welfare” is typically funded by taxes, unemployment insurance programs such as that in Oklahoma, are funded by a compulsory governmental insurance program, usually funded by employers. Employers pay this insurance on behalf of their employees as part of a compensation and benefits package for their employees.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) administers unemployment claims. In order to receive benefits, you must have lost your job (been discharged) through no fault of your own in addition to meeting other requirements during your benefits period. In a case in which an employee voluntarily quits and seeks benefits, the separation must have been for good cause.
Oklahoma law defines good cause as a job working condition that has changed so much that it is harmful, adverse or detrimental to a person’s health, safety or morals such that leaving work was justified; substantially unfair treatment of the employee or the creation of substantially difficult working conditions by the employer; or pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement or other written employer plan which permits it and the employer has consented. OESC § 2-405; Okla. Stat. tit. 40 § 2-405.
Qualifying for unemployment benefits is never based on need. Qualifying for TANF and other public assistance is always based on need.
Unemployment benefits reflect a portion of the salary that an employee once made. Thus, it is common for a person who is receiving unemployment benefits to apply for and receive public assistance in the form of SNAP or TANF benefits for a short period of time.
If you have questions about whether you should file an unemployment benefits claim, an Oklahoma employment attorney can help answer your questions.
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