Over 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March, according to the U.S. Labor Department, when large swaths of the country began shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Right now, many are able to take advantage of an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits provided by the federal government on top of each state's standard jobless benefit. But that benefit is set to expire at the end of July if Congress does not pass another stimulus bill to extend benefits.
Other unemployment measures enacted to stimulate the economy during the pandemic, however, will still be in effect through the end of the year. Here's what you need to know.
Among many other provisions, the CARES Act, passed in late March, includes an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. These payments last through July 31, after which unemployment benefits will revert to their normal payment amount, which varies by state.
The July 31 date was an arbitrary pick, says Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the left-leaning National Employment Law Project. At the time the CARES Act passed on March 27, the severity of Covid-19 — and the damage it would cause throughout the entire economy — was not clear, and four months of enhanced benefits seemed sufficient from a public health perspective.
"In late March, we all thought this was going to pass in a few months," says Evermore. Now, "I really don't think we're going to be back to business as usual for a quite while."
Beyond the extra $600 a week, the federal government is funding 13 additional weeks of unemployment insurance benefits via the CARES Act's Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PECU) program for workers who have exhausted their state benefits. Workers in most states are eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. With this program, most people will get 39 weeks of unemployment insurance.
However, a handful of states do not offer that many weeks of UI, like North Carolina, which only gives 12. In these more complicated cases, workers can still get 39 weeks of unemployment benefits by taking advantage of a combination of the CARES Act's unemployment programs. In North Carolina, the worker would get 12 from the state, 13 from the PEUC and then an additional six weeks from regular Extended Benefits, says Evermore.
That means virtually everyone who qualifies for unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic can receive benefits for up to 39 weeks (Montana residents qualify for 41 weeks). These extended benefits will continue past July 31, ending on or before December 31, 2020. As of now, they will not extend into the new year.
If you are currently receiving benefits and cannot find a new job, you should continue to recertify each week, says Evermore.
The CARES Act includes a program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which expands benefits to gig, self-employed and contract workers, including the extra $600 a week. This benefit will also continue to be paid out through the end of the year, says Evermore.
The House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act on May 15, which would extend the unemployment measures from the first stimulus package, including the extra $600 weekly benefit through January 2021, and unemployment benefits for gig and contract workers through March 2021. But it's unclear if Senate will pass the bill, too.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that Congress will "probably" need to pass another stimulus bill. Previously, he said enhanced unemployment benefits would not be part of another bill.
Ending the extra $600 on August 1 would "wreak havoc in the economy," says Evermore, because so many people are still unemployed and their spending power would decrease dramatically. She believes that Congress will pass another stimulus bill, which will address unemployment insurance in some capacity, although it's not a sure thing.
"I can't believe they won't extend the $600 and all of the CARES Act provisions for some period of time," she says. "What's the stock market going to do once Wall Street realizes people don't have a lot of buying power?"