The length of your unemployment benefits in Arkansas is not dictated by time, but by your maximum benefit amount. The MBA is the most you can collect on each claim of unemployment benefits. Essentially, you collect until your MBA is exhausted. When the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services determines your MBA, it reviews your base period covered wages and applies the formula set forth by state law.
Your maximum benefit amount depends on the wages you earned during your base period. Your base period is the first four of the last five full calendar quarters before you filed for benefits. The last full calendar quarter is the lag period. For example, if you filed your benefits on May 7, 2011, your lag period is January through March 2011 and your base period is January 2010 through December 2010.
The only wages the DWS considers when calculating your maximum benefit amount are your insured wages. These are wages you earned from employment covered under the Arkansas unemployment compensation laws. While most traditional types of unemployment are covered, self-employment, work completed as an independent contractor or work paid by commission only is excluded. You can often tell whether work is insured or not by the type of tax form you receive for it at the end of the year. 1099 tax forms usually indicate work that isn’t covered while a W-2 tax form would indicate it is covered.
To calculate your maximum benefit amount, you must add all of the insured wages you earned during your base period. Then divide the total by three and round the amount to the nearest dollar. Arkansas state law limits your MBA to no more than 26 times your weekly benefit amount. Each time you receive an unemployment payment, it’s deducted from your MBA until the total amount is gone. Once you exhausted your MBA, you have to wait until the next benefit year to begin collecting again.
Calculating Benefit Weeks
Many claimants mistakenly think that by dividing the MBA by their weekly benefit amounts, they can calculate their total benefit weeks. While this is simplistic way of viewing it, it doesn’t take into account that the weekly benefit amount is just the eligible amount. If you are unavailable for work or receive some sort of income for the week, your weekly benefit amount is reduced. However, the MBA stays the same. For example, if your weekly benefit amount is reduced by half because you have a part-time job, you may receive twice as many benefit weeks because less of your MBA is depleted each week.