Congress’ third fiscal care package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, made the unemployment insurance (UI) program more generous by providing an additional $600 in weekly payouts and extending benefits for an extra 13 weeks, a much-needed financial cushion during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Still, how much you’re paid and for how long differs from state to state.
But even as areas of the country tiptoe toward reopening by walking back some of their stay-at-home restrictions — a policy choice that’s resulted in almost 1 in 4 U.S. workers losing their jobs in a matter of weeks — economists say unemployment likely won’t return to its previous half-century low anytime soon. Meanwhile, talks among lawmakers on Capitol Hill appear to be in limbo when it comes to enacting a fourth relief bill, though a chorus of voices in Washington are pushing for more aid.
It means that fears over benefits not lasting long enough are a valid concern. Here’s 10 steps you can take to help prepare your finances.
1. Know what’s out there for you through the extended unemployment insurance (UI) system
There’s no one-size-fits-all policy to the extended UI program, with each individual state determining how much and for how long they make a weekly payout. It’s important to have awareness of what’s out there for you — which, all in all, should last about 39 weeks, if you’ve lost your job on or before Dec. 31, 2020, according to the Department of Labor.
But there is one date to keep in mind: July 31. It’s the cutoff for when the CARES Act-backed extra $600 check expires. Some states, however, have carved out their own deadlines. In Illinois, for example, individuals who started claiming their additional $600 benefits beginning the week of March 29 will receive that boosted check until July 25. It’s worth checking into your state’s individual policy, given that the program is left up to states’ discretion.
After the calendar turns from July to August, your weekly payout should return to what your state was providing before the CARES Act. At the end of 2019, weekly payouts averaged out to about $371 nationwide, according to Labor Department data.
The CARES Act-backed 13-week extension also differs, largely depending on how much your state paid out before the pandemic. Montana offered 28 weeks of payouts, meaning individuals could receive 41 weeks of unemployment benefits once it’s all said and done. Other states, such as North Carolina and Florida, offered 12 weeks of payments, rounding out the total to 25 weeks.
But it’s not as if you’ll be financially cut off immediately. Also introduced through the CARES Act is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which supplies 39 weeks of benefits in total. Normally disbursed to those ineligible for UI, such as gig workers and contractors, the program can be used as a supplement for individuals who’ve run out of normal state and expanded CARES-Act aid.
All of this might seem up in the air, though, if you’re one of thousands of people who still hasn’t been able to get through to file a claim. States have been overwhelmed by applications, many of which have resulted in website crashes and hours-long waits. Even worse, some individuals still haven’t received a payment. That extra $600 should be back-dated, says Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, who specializes in unemployment insurance. This means you could still collect that extra cash beyond the July 31 cut-off date.
“The $600 will go backwards, but not forwards,” Evermore says. “If a person became unemployed in the middle of April, and they applied and got approved in the middle of May, they’ll get the $600 dollars back to the middle of April, but not before the CARES Act implementation.”