If you're on unemployment, it will eventually run out. Even with the extended benefits available from the COVID-19 relief packages, it's important to be prepared for the day your unemployment ends. For many people, these benefits will probably expire on September 6, 2021. If you might still be jobless at that time, start planning now. There are other assistance options including government programs like SNAP, TANF, and Section 8 housing. Your best choice may be to take advantage of the opportunities available to enhance your career training.
Written by Attorney John Coble.
Updated July 26, 2021
The length of time you can collect unemployment varies by state. Under normal circumstances, you can collect unemployment insurance benefits for up to 12 weeks in Florida to up to 30 weeks in Massachusetts. Most other states offer unemployment benefits for 26 weeks.
The pandemic made for extraordinary circumstances, including high rates of unemployment. To address this, Congress expanded unemployment benefits by passing the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan. As caseloads across the country drop, these expanded benefits are set to end in September. Of course, if the nation suffers more waves of infections, these expanded benefits may be revived.
This article will explore how benefits have been expanded in the past year, what to expect in the coming months, and what to do if your benefits have ended but you still don’t have a job.
Basic Unemployment Benefits
Every state has an employee benefits program that allows workers to maintain an income when they're jobless. The weekly benefit amount varies by state and takes into account an individual’s previous income. Average weekly benefits range from $192 in Louisiana to $473 in Massachusetts. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, some aspects of the unemployment insurance program have been temporarily changed.
For example, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program extended unemployment benefits to individuals who are self-employed and independent contractors, such as gig workers, for the first time. This program also covers the long-term unemployed that wouldn't be eligible for regular unemployment insurance (UI). Under this program individuals could earn benefits for up to 79 weeks, starting from the time they filed their new claim. The length of eligibility will depend on your state's normal unemployment benefits and extended benefits. Currently, this program is set to end on September 6, 2021.
Another program that expanded benefits is the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. Under this program, unemployment recipients earned an additional $600 per week on top of their regular state benefits. This program expired on July 31, 2020 but was then reinstated and extended several times. It was first reinstated in December 2020 and extended through March 14, 2021, but the $600 additional weekly benefit was reduced to $300. Most recently, it was extended until September of 2021. While the federal benefit is on offer to all states, many states have already dropped this program.
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program is another of the COVID unemployment relief programs like PUA and FPUC. Just like the other COVID-19 relief programs, PEUC benefits are set to expire on September 6, 2021. PEUC extends unemployment benefits when the regular benefits from a new claim run out. At first, it was a 13-week extension. Then, it became a 24-week extension. Now, it's up to a 53-week extension on your state's regular unemployment benefits.
Things are still changing all the time. As the FPUC demonstrates, some COVID-19 unemployment relief programs have expired and then been revived. This could happen again, so it's important to understand these programs.
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Longer Benefit Periods
You may be eligible for 13 to 20 weeks of additional benefits beyond what your state unemployment insurance provides. These additional weeks of benefits are available under the Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits (EB) program. The federal government provides this money for states with high unemployment rates. These benefits aren't part of the COVID-19 relief response. Unlike the temporary benefits in the coronavirus relief programs, these benefits do not expire. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, a minority of states are utilizing the EB program.
For the states that are utilizing the EB program, each chooses which "trigger formula" to use to determine eligibility. These trigger formulas are complicated calculations using the total unemployment rate (TUR) and the insured unemployment rate (IUR). These formulas compare the recent 13-week average unemployment rate to past years’ rates. Put more simply, extended benefits might be available if you live in a state with 5% to 6.5% unemployment.
How many additional weeks might you qualify for? Either 13 weeks or one-half of your state's regular benefit period, whichever is less. If you're in a state with what’s called a high unemployment period (HUP), you might get an additional seven weeks on top of the extended benefits. So, say your state offers 26 weeks of regular benefits and participates in the EB program. This means you’ll get an additional 13 weeks of benefits, bringing you to 39 weeks. If your state also has a HUP, you can get a further seven weeks of benefits, bringing you to a total of 46 weeks.
What To Do If Your Benefits Run Out And You're Still Not Employed
Though there are several programs to extend unemployment, what if you can't find a job and your benefits run out?
Underemployment is when you're working in a job that doesn't pay as well as what you're trained to do. For example, if you're a trained engineer delivering pizzas, you're underemployed. If you were a full-time worker before the pandemic, but now you can only find part-time work, you're underemployed.
After a recession, it’s common for people to take new jobs that do not pay as well as their old jobs. This is because larger companies cut much of their workforces and people have to work for smaller companies that don't pay as well. This may be considered a type of underemployment.
The good news is that as people return to work following the pandemic recession many will probably make more money in their new jobs. The reason is, when fewer people come back to work to fill jobs that have been vacated due to shutdowns, the labor supply decreases. In this situation, the economic law of supply and demand causes wages to increase. If wages don't increase, employers will not be able to attract enough workers.
If you are working, but you're not making as much as you were pre-pandemic, it's a good idea to reduce the expenses and debt payments that you can. This can be achieved by taking advantage of the various debt relief programs available. These include credit counseling, debt management plans, debt settlements, debt consolidations, and sometimes bankruptcy. Upsolve has a free tool that allows you to file your own bankruptcy without an attorney if it’s a straightforward Chapter 7 bankruptcy. For more complex cases, Upsolve can help you find an attorney.
A New Career
If you want to work, but you're not able to leave home, there's one good thing that has come out of the pandemic. Working from home has become more mainstream. It's unlikely that office jobs will ever get back to the point they were in 2019 when the overwhelming majority of office workers commuted to the office every day.
There are several excellent websites to help you find a work-from-home job, such as Remote.Co and FlexJobs. Scanning the jobs on these sites shows the enormous array of job skills that are a good fit for remote work. These include virtual assistants, online tutors, customer support, computer programmers, and even writers. Traditional online job sites like Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter, and others also have plenty of remote jobs available on their sites.
Before your unemployment benefits expire, it may be a good idea to look into the Self-Employment Assistance Program (SEAP). This program provides assistance while you create your own business. Those who participate in SEAP receive entrepreneurial training, work with mentors, and get help with their business plans.
The SEAP program is only available in five states. Still, you have options to train for jobs at relatively low costs through different websites. Coursera and edX have partnerships with companies like Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce. These online education sites are also connected with top-tier universities like Harvard and Stanford and many other educational institutions across the country and around the world.
You may benefit from looking at some of the career sites and finding different types of jobs that interest you. Then, take one of the aptitude tests available online. At that point, determine what online training you might need and find it. You can build your own career instead of waiting for a suitable job to become available.
Even if you make less while working from home, you might still have the same disposable income that a higher-paying office job would provide since many of your expenses will be lower. For example, you don't have to pay as much for gas and car maintenance and you’ll regain the time you used to spend commuting to work every day.
Don’t hesitate to seek government assistance if you're struggling because your unemployment has run out or you're not able to find a job that pays as much as your old job. There are many programs designed to help those who are struggling.
What if your situation won't allow you to return to work? For example, if you have young children, you may have a difficult time affording childcare while you're working. If that’s the case, there's help on the way. The advance Child Tax Credit payments begin on July 15, 2021.
If you're no longer able to afford rent in a safe neighborhood, you may qualify for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, which cover part of the cost of rent. Section 8 housing can only be in neighborhoods that meet certain standards for health and safety. For assistance with food purchases, look to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
For healthcare, you can apply for Medicaid or shop for a plan on the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA provides a tax credit to help you afford health insurance by paying for part of your premium. Though it isn't government assistance, you may also get some relief from prescription drug prices through services like GoodRx.
Many are surprised to learn that the IRS can assist you. The earned income tax credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit are really government payments for those who need it. These tax credits aren't just for low-income families. For the EITC, your household earnings can be as high as $57,414. For the child tax credit, your household earnings could be up to $170,000 before you're ineligible. If you need some cash to get by, consider the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
If you're on unemployment, it will eventually run out. Even with the extended benefits available from the COVID-19 relief packages, it's important to be prepared for the day your unemployment ends. For many people, these benefits will probably expire on September 6, 2021. If you might still be jobless at that time, start planning now.
There are other assistance options including government programs like SNAP, TANF, and Section 8 housing. Your best choice may be to take advantage of the opportunities available to enhance your career training. It can't be said enough that you need to be prepared for the day the unemployment ends.