In short: Traditionally, unemployment benefits expire after 26 weeks, but at the moment, you can apply for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and get a 24-week extension. If you’re self employed, you may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), self-employment grants and small business loans. In either case, you’ll also get a reduced weekly FPUC payment until at least mid-March, 2021. It’s also worth noting that in the newest iteration of the COVID-19 relief package, unemployment will include an additional $300 and extended through September 6th.
Between February and May 2020, more than 14 million people in America lost their jobs. The labor market did rebound somewhat, but 6.2% of the workforce were still unemployed in February 2021. Many people made redundant in the wake of the pandemic turned to unemployment assistance—but some found themselves still out of work months later, wondering “can I get an extension on my unemployment benefits?”
If you’re in a similar situation, try not to panic. A number of financial assistance options exist, which could help you make ends meet. We’ll explore the main contenders in this guide—including the latest CARES package updates.
Unemployment Action Plan
Many people feel helpless and out of control during periods of unemployment—especially if they were laid off unexpectedly. If that sounds familiar, you might want to create a daily schedule to keep yourself busy and stay as active as possible while you’re between jobs.
Can I Get an Extension on My Unemployment Benefits?
Unemployment benefits are a valuable lifeline for millions of people in America, but they traditionally expire after 26 weeks. Under some circumstances, people can apply for an extension of unemployment benefits. If you’re eligible for extended unemployment benefits you’ll usually be notified via letter.
If you get another job and then lose that job through no fault of your own, you could claim unemployment again. Rules vary from state to state regarding a second round of unemployment benefits, so do check before you apply.
With all that said, things are a little different at the moment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s look specifically at coronavirus-related unemployment assistance.
Made law at the end of March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) established three programs to help American workers stay afloat. Let’s examine each one in detail.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
Part of the original CARES act, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) gave unemployed workers an additional $600 per week on top of their regular unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, the initial $600-per-week payments stopped at the end of July, 2020.
An extension to FPUC in August 2020 cut the $600 weekly payment to $300. The FPUC program currently runs until March 14th, 2021, but it will most likely be extended. After the beginning of April, 2021, FPUC payments will likely be around $300 per week.
Who’s it for?
Workers who claim standard state unemployment compensation, PEUC or PUA are also eligible for FPUC payments.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) provides an automatic 24-week extension to unemployment benefits. Part of the original act, PEUC was subsequently extended through March 14th, 2021.
Who’s it for?
All workers receiving benefits via standard state programs are automatically eligible for PEUC payments when their original 26 weeks come to an end. You do need to apply to receive PEUC payments—but the application process is very simple.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is a federal program for gig workers and self-employed people. If you’re approved for PUA, you’ll get up to 50 weeks of benefits payments. Payments depend on your previous base-period wages—and you can submit your 2019 or 2020 tax return to provide proof of those.
Who’s it for?
Gig workers, freelancers and small business owners may be able to claim PUA if they can’t work because of the COVID-19 pandemic, or because they or the main household breadwinner is sick with coronavirus. If you’re eligible for regular unemployment compensation, you won’t be eligible for PUA.
Under the terms of the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020, many benefits recipients will continue to receive payouts through April 5th, 2021. There are plans to modify and extend existing pandemic-based unemployment programs, however.
What Happens When My Unemployment Extension Runs Out?
People who run out of standard unemployment weeks and PEUC weeks may be eligible for the federally funded Extended Benefits program. Right now, the Extended Benefits plan is available in 42 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Apply for Government Assistance Programs
Government assistance programs exist to provide help in times of trouble, so don’t be shy about applying if you need to. Check out the following common plans:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help you buy nutritious food.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which can help you purchase specific types of food and dairy products.
- Social Security benefits.
- Medicaid benefits.
Don’t forget to ask about other community programs in your area, including food banks, church programs, childcare solutions and educational bursaries.
Look into Self-Employment Assistance Programs
We mentioned the federal PUA and FPUC programs above—but there are other financial help programs available for self-employed people, too. Look into small business loans and grants through the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA), for example. State-centric benefits for self-employed people might also apply, so reach out to the Secretary of State office near you.
Consider Freelance or Part-Time Work
If you’ve been laid off because of COVID-19, you could consider part time work—or even self-employment. This could be the moment to start your own business, for instance, or to sign up with a job in the gig economy. Need ideas? Here are a few to get you started:
You could find traditional employment again soon, but in the meantime, why try something new? If you’re interested in learning new skills at home, Coursera can help. Meanwhile, create a profile with ZipRecruiter to keep looking for a regular job.
Sometimes, all options seem off the table. If you feel you’ve come to that point, it’s important to reach out. Resources like United Way 2-1-1 can help you find ways to pay for food, housing, medical and financial expenses, for instance.
Need Help? You Have Options
Unemployment benefits help many American workers pay essential bills—especially right now. If you’re eligible for unemployment payments, don’t forget to apply for PEUC after your initial 26-week benefits period expires. If you’re self-employed, you might be eligible for PUA, small business loans and grants. Finally, do apply to the government programs you qualify for, including SNAP, WIC and Medicaid.
It’s important to monitor your credit, even when you’re unemployed. Sign up for your free credit report card to see a helpful credit snapshot today, or choose ExtraCredit for a more in-depth financial picture.
DISCLAIMER. The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to be, legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only.