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It's not just the extra $600—millions of workers could exhaust all of their jobless benefits by January

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Food Banks in the Orlando area face continued demand as unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic persists. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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How would you and your family be affected if Congress does not pass another stimulus package? CNBC Make It would like to talk to you. Email money reporter Alicia Adamczyk at alicia.adamczyk@nbcuni.com.

Over the past few weeks, the expiration of the extra $600 in enhanced unemployment insurance and what it means for the record number of unemployed Americans has dominated headlines. But it's not just the enhanced benefit that is on the line — millions could run out of jobless benefits altogether by the end of the year if Congress does not pass legislation extending eligibility, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

The CARES Act substantially increased the number of weeks those out of work can collect jobless benefits, from most states offering 26 weeks to all states providing a total of at least 39 weeks. However, that 13 week extension, called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and the provision extending 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to gig and contract workers and the self-employed, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), expire at the end of December 2020.

States also offer "extended benefits," separate from what was created under the CARES Act, in times of high unemployment. Most states offer 13 weeks of extended benefits, though this varies. Florida, for example, offers six weeks of extended benefits, according to the CBPP, while others offer as much as 20.

Unlike the CARES Act's 13 extra weeks, these do not expire at the end of the 2020, so someone without a job could claim these in 2021 if he or she does not use them up this year. That said, those who do not qualify for ordinary state unemployment benefits also do not qualify for extended benefits.

Depending on when someone began collecting benefits, and whether they are collecting PEUC or PUA benefits, "by early next year, it's likely that millions of people will have exhausted their benefits before finding work," writes the CBPP. Economists anticipate unemployment rates will remain high through 2021.

That could be devastating for families. "Most workers whose jobless benefits run out are likely to be left without any meaningful basic cash income support," the CBPP says.

Black, Latino and immigrant workers, who have suffered the largest job losses throughout the coronavirus recession, would be hit especially hard, according to the CBPP and the Congressional Budget Office. "Workers of color are more likely than White workers to be unemployed longer and therefore to run out of unemployment benefits," says the CBPP.

Gig workers lose out

Some workers, including those laid off in 2019 and at the very beginning of the pandemic, could even exhaust their benefits before the end of this year. The number of people currently claiming extended benefits, which kick in after regular UI benefits and the CARES Act's emergency UI are exhausted, is at its highest level so far this recession, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). That people qualify for extended benefits at all is a sign that "policymakers should extend [PEUC] even further," writes EPI. 

Gig workers, the self-employed and independent contractors do not qualify for extended benefits. Unless Congress acts, those workers would lose all of their unemployment benefits come January.

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Stimulus talks are currently at a standstill in Congress. President Donald Trump issued an executive order this past weekend to extend enhanced UI payments at $300 per week, but the order did not address the total number of weeks workers can collect benefits.

In the meantime, around 28 million people are currently collecting jobless benefits. 

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