Millions of Americans and their families will see a significant drop in their unemployment benefits, or lose them altogether, now that three key pandemic relief programs for the jobless have expired.
Moving forward, 5.1 million people supported by Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (for freelancers, gig workers and caregivers), and 3.8 million people drawing from Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (for the long-term unemployed) will lose access to benefits entirely. This amounts to roughly 76% of all UI recipients as of late August losing their jobless aid altogether.
The 2.6 million people who qualify for traditional UI will lose the $300 weekly supplement, or an immediate $1,200 drop in their monthly earnings, threatening their ability to pay for essential expenses like food, housing and medical supplies.
If you were receiving benefits through one of these programs, here are four steps you can take now that pandemic UI programs have expired.
Eligibility for PUA and PEUC officially ended on Sept. 6. But if you believe you qualify for either program and never filed a claim, or missed a week of certification, you still have time to submit your information.
States have a 30-day window after the expiration of PUA or PEUC to accept new applications for weeks workers are entitled, says Alexa Tapia, the UI campaign coordinator for the National Employment Law Project.
Though Congress has made no moves to extend pandemic UI, some advocates have suggested those on PUA and PEUC continue to certify in the event the programs are renewed, as they have been in the past. Tapia doesn't recommend this, however, and says workers most likely won't even have the ability to do so on state UI websites.
"The only option certain workers — those who are normally eligible for UI — may have is to check to see if they have a new benefit year if they worked at all during the past year," Tapia tells CNBC Make It. "Currently, Congress has strongly indicated that they will not renew these programs. If they did, retroactivity would be something they would decide."
Long-term unemployed workers who lost PEUC in some states may be eligible for continued aid by moving over to Extended Benefits, EB, a federally funded aid program that kicks in depending on their state's unemployment rate. California, Illinois, Nevada and Texas will end their EB programs after Sept. 11.
EB will remain on for up to 13 weeks of additional jobless aid to eligible residents in Connecticut, New Jersey and New Mexico.
Eligibility requirements for EB differ from PEUC, so you may have to apply for the new program separately with your state, or you may be moved over automatically if you qualify. You can check your state's labor department for specific information.
There are still a few federal relief programs in place to aid those who are struggling, including monthly advance child tax credit payments; increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits; emergency rental relief; and the pause on federal student loan payments.
Eligibility requirements vary, especially by location, so not everyone will qualify for them.
The grassroots advocacy organization ExtendPUA has a resource page for additional financial, career and mental health resources, which goes beyond government assistance and includes help for things like utilities, Wi-Fi, UI claims disputes and "lots of mutual aid," says ExtendPUA Executive Director Stephanie Freed. "We shouldn't be relying on mutual aid to make sure people are surviving in this country, but it exists and is there to help."
She spent the last few weeks fielding desperate messages from families experiencing an immediate loss of income. "The message we're telling everyone is: This is not right, and it's not their fault. They're not alone."
Despite record job openings, would-be workers continue to cite ongoing child-care challenges, fears of the virus and a changing view of workplace preferences or their career goals as reasons they can't find suitable paid work during the pandemic. Many more send out dozens, if not hundreds, of applications and never hear back in today's tight labor market that isn't benefiting everyone equally.
But there are plenty of organizations designed to help people rejoin the workforce. The Department of Labor's CareerOneStop is a good place to visit for questions related to every aspect of employment, including refreshing your resume, preparing for interviews and job training and placement. Organizations like the National Able Network can help match you with on-the-job training that could translate to a new career.
Career experts also suggest focusing your job search within your physical area, such as by researching hiring trends in your ZIP code, finding a local job board, connecting with employers directly or referring to public services, like a local library, for help.
Studies have shown that extended unemployment and underemployment can have a longstanding impact on a job seeker's physical and mental health. So take precautions to manage burnout during a long job-search.
Some lawmakers, economists and advocates have spent months making the case to extend pandemic UI as the delta variant caused Covid caseloads to rise and job market recovery to slow.
By August, the Biden administration called on states to use emergency coronavirus funds to provide additional benefits to millions of Americans who remain out of work across the country. But the majority of state labor departments confirmed they have no intention of extending or providing additional benefits on their own.
ExtendPUA has since added to its advocacy resources ways people can contact their state legislators to urge them to provide more financial and career support to unemployed constituents.
Many worker advocacy groups, including ExtendPUA, Unemployed Action and Unemployed Workers United are also putting pressure on policymakers to institute more long-term systemic reform to cover more workers and put in automatic stabilizers, like the unemployment rate, to trigger federal relief rather than letting lawmakers choose calendar dates. Labor organizations have also called for Congress to include federal and state policies in its next reconciliation package to extend aid and strengthen UI systems overall.
Freed hasn't given up on pandemic UI extensions just yet. "We're going to keep putting pressure where we can, while also pivoting a bit to reforming UI systems so this doesn't happen again," she says. "There's no reason to end the aid now when people can't go back to work and we're still in a national state of emergency."