When cities began locking down due to COVID-19 in March, the federal government passed the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid Response and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help Americans and American businesses. Part of that package included additional unemployment benefits for people who had lost their jobs because of the pandemic -- and that extra funding is scheduled to end in less than 45 days.
Nearly 21 million people are currently receiving unemployment benefits along with 9.7 million self-employed workers. With states providing between $235 and $1,220 per week in assistance, the additional $300 to $600 per week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation is a major component of many people's financial lifeline.
When the program launched in March, it was scheduled to last for four months, ending on July 31, 2020. Well, we're almost there. And so far, Congress doesn't appear to be in any rush to renew it. Read on for all of the details.
Who is eligible for enhanced unemployment?
If you've been laid off or furloughed, you're eligible to apply for unemployment benefits from the state where you live. Once the state approves your claim, you're eligible to receive whatever state benefits you're entitled to -- as well as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation funding up to $600 per week, provided by the federal government.
How does the CARES Act help people who have been laid off or furloughed?
Each state has its own criteria for who is eligible to receive unemployment -- and what those benefits entail. This includes how much money you're eligible to receive, which is usually based on your income, and how long you're eligible to receive it, which is usually based on how long you held your most recent job. The CARES Act provided a booster fund -- adding up to $600 extra per week -- while also extending states' unemployment benefits to a maximum of 39 weeks instead of the typical 26 weeks.
How does the CARES Act help people who are self-employed?
The CARES Act also created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA), which provides benefits to individuals who would not normally be eligible for unemployment benefits from the states such as gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors and small business owners whose income has been impacted by the pandemic. Under the CARES Act, PUA funding will be available until Dec. 31, 2020.
How are my unemployment benefits calculated?
The state determines how much each applicant will receive, usually based on an individual's gross income. It varies from state to state but is typically between $300 and $500.
How can I find out if I'm eligible for unemployment benefits?
Eligibility criteria also varies from state to state, but the general rule is that you should apply if you've lost your job or been furloughed through no fault of your own. This would include a job lost directly or indirectly to the current pandemic.
How are different states handling this?
Again, benefit duration and amount varies. Most states provide up to 26 weeks of funding though others, such as Georgia, are limiting benefits to 12 weeks. On the other hand, Delaware will provide benefits for up to 30 weeks. The weekly benefit amount depends on an applicant's gross income when they were employed and ranges between $300 and $600, with some exceptions. Mississippi pays up to $235, while Massachusetts' maximum is $1,220.
Where can I find more information about my state's policy?
Each state's labor office provides more information about its particular unemployment benefits.
What efforts are underway to extend enhanced unemployment benefits?
A number of Congressional Democrats continue to push for an extension of unemployment benefits. The HEROS Act proposed by Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York, would extend the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to Jan. 31, 2020. It would also pave the way for a second stimulus payment.
The Worker Relief and Security Act has been proposed by Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado; Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island; and Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia. It would extend unemployment benefits until President Trump declares the state of emergency for COVID-19 is over. At that point, benefits would continue for another 30 days and then come to a close. Those still on unemployment would still receive weekly funds -- but the amount would be reduced over the course of 13 weeks depending on the unemployment rate of each state.
Both proposals have been opposed by Senate Republicans including Sen. Mitch McConnel from Kentucky and Sen. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. GOP leaders have taken issue with the enhanced unemployment saying it discourages workers to return to their jobs. Graham said in April reauthorization of the unemployment benefits would get passed "over our dead bodies."
What happens on July 31 if no additional legislation is passed?
That additional $600 weekly bump will be discontinued. Those still eligible for unemployment benefits will continue to receive them from their states.