Negotiations have zeroed in on a $908 billion COVID-19 relief package that would provide a $300 weekly bonus for four months, if approved by Congress. The new proposal continues to gain supporters, including President-elect Joe Biden. “The situation is urgent. If we don’t act now, the future will be bleak,” Biden said in a speech Friday. “Americans need help and they need it now, and they’ll need more come early next year. I am encouraged by the bipartisan efforts in the Senate around a $900 billion package of relief.” If passed, the proposal also would give money to local and state governments, fund the Paycheck Protection Program and help pay for the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. A second stimulus payment is more likely to to come in early 2021, despite vocal support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initially said he wouldn’t entertain the $908 billion package — which would essentially kill it, since he has the power to bring bills to a vote. Instead, he revived his own “targeted” proposal for a fraction of the amount that contains no support for a weekly bonus in unemployment checks or direct stimulus aid. Although McConnell signaled a willingness to compromise on Thursday, it is unclear if the Senate leader will continue to push his own bill without bringing the $908 billion bipartisan proposal to a vote. There were 712,000 new jobless claims last week (75,000 fewer than the week before), according to the Department of Labor. The Thanksgiving holiday may have reduced the number of new claims, according to The New York Times. The November job report shows that 245,000 jobs were created for the month, 45% less than the expected 444,000.

What if unemployment benefits lapse without a new bill?

According to a report from the New York Times Thursday, without a new stimulus bill to extend the programs established by the CARES Act:
  • 7 million gig workers and contractors will lose benefits
  • 5 million will run out of unemployment checks
  • Several million will face evictions
  • Approximately 21 million will need to start making student loan payments
  • 125,000 companies will lose tax incentives to not layoff workers
  • $150 billion of aid to state and local government will expire
The US government is currently in a lame-duck session until Biden takes office on Jan. 20, meaning President Donald Trump would need to sign off on any relief package that comes through Congress, which is right now the only way to extend the enhanced unemployment benefits before they expire on Dec. 31.

What else ends without another stimulus package?

Unemployed workers received a bonus of $600 a week along with an extended period to collect benefits as part of the CARES Act. When the bonus expired in July, 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. The revised Heroes Act from Oct. 1 would bump up the weekly bonus back to the original $600 for four months. The CARES Act established multiple programs with an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2020. In addition to the larger checks described above, the rescue bill also extended unemployment benefits for new claimants to 39 weeks instead of the typical 26 weeks established by the states. Those extra weeks will disappear except in those states that already established a longer period of time through 2021. Another program set to expire on Dec. 31 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.

Why were unemployment benefits enhanced to begin with?

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 qualified for enhanced unemployment aid?

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.

How did the CARES Act support people who were 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 extra unemployment money?

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 qualified for unemployment insurance?

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 the unemployment benefits?

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 get more details 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. *By Oscar Gonzalez, CNET*  

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