January 22, 2021
When are more unemployment benefits coming? Here's what you should know

Unemployment benefits: New hope for $300 extra weekly check? Not so fast


Americans are in need of another economic relief package. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

A group of Congressional lawmakers from the House of Representative and Senate revealed a $908 billion COVID-19 relief package Tuesday that would provide a $300 weekly bonus for four months. The proposal also contains relief for state and local governments, more money for the Paycheck Protection Program and funding for the developer and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. What’s not included in the package is a second round of stimulus checks

With support from a full mix of lawmakers, the newest proposal for a stimulus bill would have the potential to kickstart negotiations to pass more aid, including the extra weekly unemployment check. Or at least it did, until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wouldn’t entertain the $908 billion bill — effectively stopping it — and instead revived his own narrow proposal for a fraction of the amount.

This is the third revision for McConnell’s $500 billion package, which failed to pass in the Senate twice since July, and was blocked by Democrats both times. The only concession for direct support to workers in McConnell’s latest revision is a month-long extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig workers, until Jan. 31, 2021. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, shared a proposal Nov. 30 with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, which would be more likely to include extra unemployment insurance. 

“Additional COVID relief is long overdue and must be passed in this lame-duck session,” Pelosi said Tuesday.

Here’s what we know about additional unemployment benefits. This story updates frequently with new information.

Read more: Coronavirus unemployment: Who is covered, how to apply and how much it pays

What happens if extra unemployment benefits aren’t extended?

Without a relief package, more than 13 million unemployed workers will go without funds from the federal government. 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, President Donald 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 US government is currently in a lame-duck session until President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, meaning President 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

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What else happens to unemployment benefits without more stimulus aid?

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 ending at the end of the year 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. This program is also set to expire on Dec. 31.

Why were unemployment benefits expanded in the first place?

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. 


Tens of millions of Americans face dire financial straits.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Who qualified for extra 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 help 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 check?

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 anyway?

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 benefits?

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 money?

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 find 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 assist 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. 

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