Congressional Democrats and Republicans agreed on a new, $900 billion pandemic relief package after months of negotiations. This is great news for millions of Americans now unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the package are provisions that will provide enhanced unemployment benefits to workers who are jobless in these times.
Two programs of the CARES Act have been extended in the latest stimulus bill. These programs will support the long-term unemployed, gig workers, freelancers, and self-employed individuals for an extra 11 weeks. The extension of both programs is a significant game-changer for those who have lost their jobs, as it offers them an additional $300 per week on top of their current state unemployment benefits. For those who derived their income from both independent contracting and self-employment, there is a $100 boost to their benefits. Both of these programs are scheduled to run until March 14.
This additional benefit will provide notable relief to unemployed workers as they deal with economic circumstances defined by the pandemic. Lawmakers are also debating on yet another stimulus bill, which is expected to include funding for state and local governments along with liability protections for businesses.
Unemployment Benefit Programs
The number of different programs can leave you wondering: What does this all mean, and how does it affect me? Here is a brief rundown of the programs and what they mean
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) – An additional $300 added to your state unemployment benefits from the federal government
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – Unemployment benefits for those who wouldn’t traditionally qualify
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) – An extension of traditional unemployment benefits for those who have exhausted their benefits
- Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) – An additional $100 added to traditional unemployment benefits for those who can prove at least $5,000 in earnings from self-employment. NOTE: This is only for those workers who have a conventional employer and earn at least $5,000 on their own. You can’t collect this in addition to PUA benefits.
Do I Qualify for These Benefits?
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), under the CARES Act, will offer aid to workers who wouldn’t traditionally qualify. These include gig workers, freelancers, self-employed, and even parents forced to quit their jobs because of child care needs. Under the previous stimulus package, these benefits would have expired on December 26. This package will fund relief for a further 11 weeks, through March 14, 2021. The bill will also see an additional 11 weeks of benefits for individuals through the PEUC program.
An Extra $300 Weekly
The new bill will give a $300 weekly federal enhancement to a worker’s state-provided benefits under the FPUC. That is only half of the $600 weekly enhancement seen in the CARES Act at the beginning of the pandemic. That $600 supplement expired in July. At the time, lawmakers agreed on the $600 figure, as they thought it would be sufficient to help the average worker offset their losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was a figure chosen with state unemployment in mind.
Without help from the federal government, the average unemployed worker will receive $333 per week from the state’s aid. That is based on data collected in April 2020 from all states. The average benefits vary by state. Massachusetts provides $531 weekly, while in Oklahoma, it’s only $101. This discrepancy clearly shows why there is a need for an additional $300 per week and will make a significant difference in the everyday workers’ lives.
Get an Extra $100 with the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation
The newest addition to the bill was that it provided an extra $100 weekly aid for self-employed individuals, so long as they could prove that they earned at least $5,000 in this manner. Note, someone cannot claim the MEUC and PUA at the same time.
This added benefit is another significant step towards providing long-term relief to workers who have lost their jobs and their means of earning a livelihood during the pandemic. It may not seem like much, but the extra $100 will make a massive difference in the lives of individuals who have been without jobs and limited means of earning an income during the coronavirus pandemic.
When Should You Expect Payments to Start?
The new measures for assisting the unemployed have already come into effect from December 27, 2020, but there are delays expected. Likely delays in federal payments will result from common implementation complications with new benefits. Somebody must enter the new data into each state’s computer networks.
You can expect a delay of a couple of weeks before the payments start to flow to everyone. There was a delay of nearly a month to administer the $600 benefit when passed during the spring. At that time, recipients were given their complete back payments for all the weeks of missed payments.
How Long Will the Aid Last?
The current extensions made for the pandemic unemployment will last for 11 weeks, which will begin from December 27, and run till March 14, 2021. After that, there will be no new applications accepted for the PEUC or the PUA. Those individuals who are getting their unemployment insurance from the PEUC or PUA till March 14 and haven’t received their full amount with back payments can still claim their aid till April 5, 2021.
Economists have made recommendations that with aid for extraordinary joblessness, it should be connected to economic indicators like the unemployment rate, instead of choosing a calendar date that Congress decides. President-elect Joe Biden has already claimed that these new stimulus payments are like a “down payment” to the people and has promised that there will be more relief for the people when he comes into office on January 20, 2021.
As of now, almost 20.6 million Americans have been receiving some form of unemployment aid. By December 12, 2020, nearly 885,000 people had filed for unemployment. This increase was completely unexpected and was the highest since the beginning of September. The winter weather, combined with an increase in COVID cases, is expected to wreak further havoc on the economy and cause many more businesses to close. That will make the job recovery process even harder and will likely see more people relying on unemployment benefits to survive and put food on the table.
When Do Benefits Start?
Most of the states expect no problems in starting to pay the $300 weekly boost to individuals. That is mainly dependent on how efficient they are in entering the new information into their systems and then dispersing the people’s payments. Most experts had already projected that it would take around two to three weeks before people start getting their checks.
That is the average length of time, and as far as estimates go, everything is on track to work as projected. Numerous states, including California and New York, have been quite efficient in rolling out the payments. Nearly $434 million in federal payments has already been delivered to over 1 million claimants by the California Employment Development Department.
Around 167,000 people out-of-work in Georgia have also received the new pandemic benefits, and nearly 300,000 claimants got their $300 check at the start of January. However, around 240,000 people in Georgia who had exhausted their pandemic benefits before December 26 will need to wait for a few more weeks before their 11-week extension becomes active.
In other states, unemployed residents will be getting their benefits in their relief packages. For instance, jobless people in Ohio won’t be able to submit current weekly claims or applications for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It is expected that the State Department of Job and Family Services will make it that people who have already been approved will be able to file towards the end of January. Once completed, they will start delivering the $300 benefit to everyone that qualifies for it.
New Requirements to Claim Benefits
In the latest relief package, people looking for benefits of the PUA program will need to submit extra paperwork that shows solid proof that they were self-employed or had a job. Earlier, state agencies accepted the word of claimants regarding their income and employment last year.
In this round of stimulus, lawmakers tightened eligibility rules. Because the program has provided relief to many Americans who weren’t eligible for standard unemployment, there have been a rising number of cases of fraud. The US Department of Labor now states that anyone without a job who had applied for benefits under the PUA before January 31 and received payments after December 27 will need to offer documentation within 90 days to their respective state agency. Individuals who have filed new applications after January 31 have 21 days to submit their paperwork.
Documents that could be used to prove employment may include earnings statements, paycheck stubs, or W-2 tax forms. Documents proving self-employment include business receipts, tax returns, business licenses, or federal employer identification numbers.
For instance, Oregon is still waiting to get information about the new documentation required and other changes to the program. The state agency has no idea when it will begin sending out the payments to people who have exhausted their benefits or those with new claims for pandemic unemployment. States do have flexibility when it comes to the deadlines and requirements for documentation. However, there is concern that this will increase the disparity among states, where some states will implement strict guidelines, while others will be more lenient.
State agencies in Georgia are still trying to determine the best way for applicants to begin meeting the documentation requirements. The new rules have already placed a heavy burden on state agencies’ shoulders, especially when it comes to verifying and collecting the paperwork before releasing benefits to applicants.
A staggering 12 million Americans received jobless benefits from the PEUC and PUA programs, which ended on December 26th. That just shows the plight of the average person and how imperative it is that these programs exist. These two programs have now been extended till March 14th and will be paying regular benefits for state unemployment, which will see people without jobs taking home $300 per week or more.
The extension of these additional benefits for unemployment will only last for 11 weeks, which doesn’t seem like a lot of time. It’s not likely that the widespread economic turmoil caused by the pandemic will end by the time the latest round of unemployment benefits ends on March 14th. That means lawmakers will be debating how to provide aid well into the end of 2021.
To be clear, any form of relief is a beacon of hope for many people since they can rest easy knowing that they will be getting a $300 check to supplement their income. Everyone hopes that the most vulnerable members of our society can stretch these benefits long enough to weather the economic storm that has engulfed the nation for most of the past year.