How to prepare for a lay off

HOUSTON The national unemployment rate is near 7percent for the first time in more than a decade and it could go even higher. There are now people getting laid off who have never filed for unemployment benefits in their lives. So what can they expect?

If you find yourself laid off, do not wait to take action because help is out there. Nefertari Hayes started visiting the Workforce Solutions office back in February when she lost her job.

"Most of us have no clue as to what is taking place," she told us. "When you walk in the door, all you know is that you need a job."

Hayes quickly found out just how far unemployment compensation goes. The maximum you can expect is $392 a week. You'll get that money deposited into an account that is accessed by a debit card. It takes about a month for the unemployment compensation to start arriving in your account.

Laid off workers get six months of unemployment compensation, but congress often extends the benefits. There is one big catch, you have to register with the Texas Workforce Commission.

"The reason you have to register first of all is to draw your unemployment," said Carolyn Kennard with Texas Workforce Solutions.

Kennard says if you don't register, you cannot get unemployment benefits, and she recommends doing it right away.

"What we suggest to anyone, if you are laid off one day, the next day you should go and register," Kennard suggested.

If you get a severance package from your company, you may have to wait until the payout period ends before applying for benefits, but you'll still get them.

As for health insurance, you'll have to pick up the cost for yourself. The state of Texas helps out with the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover children free of charge.

Laid off workers can also get food stamps if they qualify and mothers can get aid for child care, but those services have to be applied for separately.

Kennard knows what it means to be unemployed, she was out of work for a full year when Shell down sized a decade ago. Now she's seeing an increase in first timers applying for aid.

"We've got people that have worked, 10, 15 years and they have not been looking for employment," Kennard said. "The first thing they have to do is update their resume."

The employment contacts Hayes found through the Workforce Solutions centers helped her find a job after seven months of looking.

"They actually send out a list of jobs to you biweekly, for you to go through, and actually go through them, find a job and get employed," Hayes said.

The first step is to register for unemployment compensation. You can do that by calling the Texas Workforce Commission, but the easiest way is to use the web site. We are told the phone number is almost always busy, so use the web. If you don't have Internet access, visit the Workforce Solutions offices in our area.

You have to apply for three jobs a week, remember, these are not permanent benefits. They last only six months.

We have links to all the unemployment information on my Consumer Blog.

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