Your state Unemployment Insurance benefits may be expiring soon if you were approved for benefits at the beginning of the pandemic. If you’re still out of work and unsure how you’ll pay the bills when your benefits run out, a low-grade panic may be setting in.
Here are two important things you need to know: One, unemployment extensions are available. But, two, they’re not automatic.
In March, the $2.2 trillion CARES Act authorized an additional 13 weeks of federal benefits to supplement state-level Unemployment Insurance programs, a provision dubbed Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC.
Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, told The Penny Hoarder that the 13-week extension will become “incredibly crucial” as state benefits expire.
Data from the Department of Labor show nearly 2 million Americans are already relying on the 13-week extension. Recent weekly reports show a decrease in people collecting state unemployment benefits and a steady increase in people collecting the federal extension.
Unemployment experts expect that trend to continue as more Americans exhaust their state-level benefits.
If you live in a state that provides 26 weeks of benefits — which most states do — and your benefits started sometime in April, they’re just about used up. Here’s what you need to know about extending your unemployment benefits.
How Unemployment Insurance Extensions Work
As an Unemployment Insurance recipient, you are likely eligible for PEUC, the 13-week extension from the federal government.
The catch: You can only apply for this extension once you have run out of your state benefits. You can’t pre-register. The Department of Labor directed states to alert you by email or letter if you are potentially eligible for the extension, but made it clear to states to not automatically enroll people.
By design, this may cause a lapse in weekly payments, though the funds are retroactive and you’ll receive aid for all eligible weeks once your application is approved.
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina all provide between 12 and 20 weeks of payments. If you’re a resident of one of those states, it’s likely that your state agency has already reached out to you about the 13-week federal extension if you’re eligible.
The PEUC application is based on your state-level unemployment claims. While you must opt in to receive the additional 13 weeks, you won’t have to completely reapply.
Under PEUC, your weekly benefits will be the same as your state benefits, the check will just be coming from the federal government.
But Wait. There’s More.
If you are unable to find work after exhausting your state’s UI program and the 13-week federal extension, you may be eligible for additional benefits.
In times of high unemployment rates, 49 states (all except South Dakota) have an Extended Benefits or EB system that adds up to 20 weeks of UI benefits, according to data compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Provided that unemployment rates are still high when you exhaust your state benefits plus PEUC, you may be eligible for EB.
“There’s an order of operations here,” Evermore said.
Based on guidance from the Labor department, the order of unemployment programs for typical jobless workers goes like this:
- State UI programs (which vary from 12 to 30 weeks)
- Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (13 weeks)
- State Extended Benefits or EB (six to 20 weeks)
- The final failsafe if all other programs are exhausted: the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Here’s our 50-state guide to filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. (We include a list of those pesky acronyms, too.)
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is available for a maximum of 39 weeks, including the weeks of all previous programs you may have been on.
For example, Florida has the shortest duration of unemployment benefits, at 12 weeks. The state’s Extended Benefits program is also one of the shortest, at six weeks. The order of operations for all possible extensions in Florida would look like this: 12 weeks of UI, 13 weeks of PEUC, six weeks of EB. The total so far is 31 weeks, meaning Florida residents can potentially use Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for 8 weeks to reach the maximum of 39 weeks of aid.
New York residents who exhaust their state benefits, in contrast, would not be eligible for PUA because the total of their state’s UI program plus all available extensions exceed 39 weeks. By quite a bit, too. Including all sources of assistance, New Yorkers are eligible for 59 weeks of unemployment benefits total.
“Taken together, the expanded benefits have had a massive effect on the economy,” Evermore said. “Initial unemployment claims are still coming in at unprecedented levels — but this could have been a lot worse without all these federal benefits.”
For the jobless applicants, though, taking all this in can be overwhelming. But benefits are there if you can trudge through the paperwork and arcane websites.
“Understanding the difference with all these programs and acronyms is going to be confusing,” Evermore said. “Just follow the instructions from your state agency. The agency is required to give you information on how to apply [for extensions].”
Whatever you do, don’t lose your password to your online unemployment profile.
“The password reset process, in many states, is really difficult,” Evermore said. “You have to call and talk to a password reset person, and then that person will mail you — in the mail — a new password.”
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.