Unemployment benefits: Will Congress pass another stimulus bill? Here’s what to know

Is more stimulus money on the way? 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Joe Biden won the race for president of the United States on Nov. 3, and already has a plan to help recover the economy. Time is running out for the millions of unemployed Americans who are depending on pandemic relief programs established back in March under the CARES Act, such as enhanced unemployment benefits that will expire on Dec. 31, 2020.

Democrats and Republicans didn’t make a deal to authorize more stimulus money before the Nov. 3 elections, which will leave millions without much-needed funds. Another stimulus package is less likely to happen as negotiations between Democrats and Republicans hit another impasse. President-elect Biden said, “People need relief right now,” during a press conference Tuesday, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say they won’t move from their demand of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to insist on smaller, more focused stimulus bills in the region of $500 billion. 

Unemployed workers received a bonus of $600 a week along with an extended period to collect benefits as part of the CARES Act from March. When the bonus expired in July, President Donald Trump signed an executive memo to restart the extra weekly funds, on top of the typical unemployment benefits. Those funds are known as Lost Wage Assistance, or LWA, and the intent was for the aid to last for six weeks, providing an extra $300 a week to unemployed workers while Congress continued negotiations to pass a new economic relief package. States have already depleted their resources. 

Here’s what we know about additional unemployment benefits. This story updates frequently with new information.

Read more: Coronavirus unemployment: Who is covered, how to apply and how much it pays

When will more unemployment benefits get approved?

Trump told reporters on Oct. 30, “We will have a tremendous stimulus package immediately after the election.” He has yet to bring up the discussion of a stimulus bill since his loss on Nov. 3

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President-elect Joe Biden’s stimulus plan does call for a boost of unemployment benefits but doesn’t go into specifics on how much. 

To recap, unemployment benefits are one of the different types of relief Republicans and Democrats have been negotiating since July in rocky talks that have yielded some agreement and a lot of difference. When the initial weekly bonus established in the Cares Act expired in July, Republicans and Democrats began negotiations. Trump squashed talks on Oct. 6, but then restarted discussions on Oct. 8. Now, moving into November, negotiations are at a precarious standstill between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Which states are still sending out $300 payments? What happened to the $400?


What will happen now with top Republicans and Democrats at odds?

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Trump’s executive memo called for the federal government to supply $300 a week in extra unemployment benefits for six weeks, starting retroactively on Aug. 1. Those states that already received and sent out LWA funds to unemployment recipients have reached their six weeks, meaning the bonus checks will come to an end soon. 

The president also called on each state to provide an additional $100, for a total of $400 per week in enhanced unemployment pay, though that’s since been made optional.

FEMA approved the LWA program for six weeks to 49 states, along with Guam and Washington, DC. South Dakota is the only state to choose not to apply for assistance. Arizona was the first state to send out the $300 bonus, on Aug. 17.

Most states have stopped sending out the extra weekly funds. Here are the states that are still providing the $300 bonus: 

What happens to unemployment benefits if there is no new stimulus package?

The CARES Act established multiple programs with an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2020. This included an extension of unemployment benefits to 39 weeks instead of the typical 26 weeks established by the states. Those extra weeks will disappear except for those states that already established a longer period of time through 2021. 

Another program ending at the end of the year is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Self-employed workers contractors and gig workers normally don’t receive unemployment benefits, but PUA allows them to receive weekly funds similar to other unemployed workers. This program is also set to expire on Dec. 31.

What is the CARES Act?

Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March to help Americans and US businesses after cities began locking down due to the pandemic. Included in the package was additional unemployment aid for people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. 

Since shelter-in-place rules were put in place, tens of millions of Americans have received the extra federal unemployment aid. With states providing between $235 and $1,220 per week in assistance, the additional $600 per week has been a major component of many people’s financial lifeline. 

Who was 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. Because states cover 30% to 50% of a person’s wages — some states provide more while others offer less — the extra $600 from the federal government was added on to help fill the gap. 


Tens of millions of Americans face dire financial straits.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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. 

Who wasn’t eligible for the additional unemployment check?

There will be some people receiving unemployment payments who will not be able to take advantage of additional funding. The US Department of Labor (PDF) on Aug. 11 sent out guidance about the eligibility requirements for the LWA. Claimants would have to be eligible for a minimum $100 from a state’s unemployment benefits program to qualify for the additional $300 federal funds. This would disqualify 1 million people, according to the New York Times. 

How are 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 $600. 

How can I find out if I’m eligible for unemployment benefits?

Eligibility criteria vary 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, the benefit duration and amount varied. Most states provide up to 26 weeks of funding, though others, such as Georgia, limited benefits to 12 weeks. On the other hand, Delaware extended 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 had paid up to $235, while Massachusetts’ maximum has been $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.

How did the CARES Act help people who are self-employed? 

The CARES Act also created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, 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 affected by the pandemic. Under the CARES Act, PUA funding will be available until Dec. 31, 2020. 

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