Federal legislation passed in March provided an additional $600 in weekly unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, which were set to expire by New Year’s. Now $300 in extra weekly payments have been extended through March 14, 2021, so UI beneficiaries can breathe a small sigh of relief.
Many state governments also have stepped in to help struggling workers, with additional state unemployment benefits, extended halts on evictions, and other measures. Here, we’ll help you understand what may lie ahead so you can weigh your options, make some decisions, and weather the storm.
Bracing for 2021: When do unemployment benefits end?
An estimated 14 million Americans were expecting to lose some or all of their unemployment benefits by the end of the year, when provisions in the CARES Act were set to expire. Now, thanks to last-minute congressional negotiations, at least some of that federal UI help has been extended. Because UI benefits are administered at the state level and funded with the federal government, the exact timing of when UI benefits expire may depend on where you live, when you began collecting benefits, and other details specific to your situation.
Who gets UI benefits, and when?
The majority of U.S. workers who filed for unemployment this year began collecting benefits in March or April. Since UI programs provide up to 26 weeks of benefits in most states, many people receiving benefits expected to be timed out by the end of 2020.
All funding, for the original $600 per week recipients, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for gig workers and others who typically don’t qualify for unemployment, and federal funding for the long-term unemployed, was set to expire on Dec. 26. And, even though the new law passed, because the president didn’t sign the bill until Sunday, December 27, those waiting for PUA payments still may not get payment for the last week in the year since states can’t pay out on programs before they are authorized.
The end of federal COVID relief?
In addition to the nationwide eviction moratorium on government-subsidized rentals from the CDC (now extended until Jan. 31) the CARES Act enacted several other protections for consumers beyond UI relief, including:
- Mortgage Protection: Forbearance and foreclosure protection for property owners with federally or GSE-backed mortgage loans.
- Student Loan Assistance: Forbearance protection for federal student loan borrowers, including 0% interest for 60 days, suspended payments, and halted collections efforts.
- FMLA Benefits: Paid family leave for workers whose families are directly impacted by COVID-19, ranging from 80 hours of regular pay to as much as 10 weeks at two-thirds the regular pay rate under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
All of these COVID relief measures were set to expire at midnight on Jan. 1, 2021 in the absence of additional legislation. The new relief package also provides rental assistance, food assistance, school funding, up to $600 in direct relief payments, and more. However, mortgage protection, student loan assistance, and expanded FMLA protections were not extended by the latest relief package.
There’s reason to believe that the incoming Biden Administration may implement additional coronavirus relief measures. Also, keep in mind that your state of residence plays a big role in how you access UI benefits and other relief.
State COVID relief and unemployment benefits
We all know that our UI benefits will go down substantially after Jan. 1, but another important question to ask is, “When do unemployment benefits end in my state?” The answer depends on your state’s maximum weekly benefit amount, how long benefits may be paid, and other details of your state UI program. The weekly maximum benefit amounts in most states are somewhere between the $600 provided for by the CARES Act, and the $300 benefit in the new relief package.
The states that pay the highest maximum weekly benefits are Massachusetts ($823), Washington ($790), and Minnesota ($740). Mississippi, Arizona, and Louisiana are at the other end of the spectrum, all paying less than $250 per week. California, with its high cost of living, pays a maximum of just $450 per week.
For how long?
Most states pay unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. Some states provide much less or more than this, and some have updated their benefit programs. For example:
- North Carolina and Florida workers receive 12 weeks of benefits.
- Georgia normally provides 14 weeks of benefits, but has increased this to 26 weeks.
- Kansas also expanded its normal 16-week limit to 26 weeks through April 2021.
- Michigan expanded its limit from 20 to 26 weeks.
- Only two states provide UI benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks: Massachusetts (30 weeks) and Montana (28 weeks).
Most states have made other temporary changes to their UI benefits program to account for COVID-19, such as waiving the first week “waiting period” (first weekly claim normally goes unpaid), providing benefits for dependents, and covering people who have had to self-isolate or voluntarily left their job to care for a family member due to COVID-19. Most states also are waiving the requirement to search for work while collecting unemployment benefits.
Additional state COVID relief measures
As millions of Americans face a $300 weekly decrease in UI benefits in the New Year, the expiration of other federal protections not extended by the new bill could make budgets even tighter. However, some states are extending eviction and foreclosure moratoriums beyond Jan. 31, providing rent assistance for struggling tenants, ordering holds on utility shut-offs, and providing aid in other ways. For instance, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he may extend the state’s eviction moratorium through May 1. Other states are also proposing longer moratoriums.
Financial survival tactics for the New Year
If you’re feeling anxious as deadlines to relief programs approach, and federal UI benefits decrease, you’re not alone. If you’ve set aside money for an emergency fund, this may be the time to use it. Of course, you’ll also want to reduce expenses as best you can, and get help with your debts if needed.
One great resource to find more assistance is the United Way’s 211.org website, where you can search for various types of aid by city or zip code. The site includes information about finding affordable health insurance coverage, low-cost internet access, applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and accessing mental health assistance.
Everyone’s needs and eligibility for aid will be different, but the following financial resources may be worth pursuing:
- Food assistance. There are a few federal food assistance programs, including food stamps (SNAP), in addition to local, nonprofit food aid programs throughout the country.
- Legal assistance for tenants. Whether you’re being evicted despite federal or state protections or otherwise being denied your rights as a tenant, there are legal aid organizations and pro-bono attorneys that provide free or low-cost legal services.
- Rent assistance. Many states, like Florida, have implemented rent assistance programs to help struggling tenants and avoid either eviction or mounting debt related to back rent. Check your state or local government’s web site.
- Career help. If you’re unemployed, you may need advice on best practices for finding compatible job openings and writing a resume and cover letter. You also may have access to free training and career services through your state or local government, or a nonprofit organization.
- Loan forbearance. While the CARES Act provided forbearance for borrowers of federally backed mortgages and student loans, you can also ask your private lenders to cut you some slack by suspending payments or interest accrual until your situation improves.
Even though federal lawmakers finally reached a deal to restore benefits before the cut-off date, there may be a lapse in benefits of a few weeks. This means that you’ll want to take appropriate measures to shore up your financial security and plan for leaner months ahead. We all look forward to a time when economic conditions and job opportunities improve as the vaccinations roll out worldwide, inspiring both confidence, and an increase in economic activity.
Get your debt under control in the New Year
Learning how to deal with debt and planning for your future has been made more complicated by the pandemic. But these are skills everyone can, and should, learn. Our simple-to-follow money and debt guide will help you discover the tools that can help you move to a better financial future. Get started today by downloading our free How to Manage Debt guide.
- Benefits of an Emergency Fund: Why They Matter and How to Build Yours (Freedom Debt Relief)
- Extra Unemployment Benefits May be Delayed for Weeks, Even if Congress Passes COVID Bill (CNBC)
- Need to Skip a Loan Payment Because of COVID-19? Talk to Your Lender Now (Freedom Debt Relief)
- Unemployment Help (USA.gov)
- What the Latest Jobs Report Could Mean for Your Finances (Freedom Debt Relief)