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When You Need More Than a One-Time Check: Your Quick Guide to Expanded Unemployment Benefits

When You Need More Than a One-Time Check: Your Quick Guide to Expanded Unemployment Benefits
April 8, 2020 Prosperity Connection

6.6 Million Americans Unemployed – and rising

Earlier this week, we spent a little time going over the details about the government’s plan of individual stimulus payment.   As of this writing, we’re still waiting on word for when you can expect to receive yours, but we’re keeping our “eyes on the prize” as they say and will keep you updated on our website and social media with what we learn. So stay with us!

In the meantime, there’s another very important part of the CARES Act to talk about and that’s the changes being made to unemployment benefits.  In fact, this may actually be more important in the long run than a one-time check.  I mean getting a single check for $1200 is nice, but a weekly check you can depend on over the next few months? That can be a much bigger help.

So here’s a quick guide to what you need to know about what’s happening with unemployment.

First, let’s start with what happens with unemployment when things are “normal”  (or what I refer to as BC: Before COVID).   In Missouri, you’re eligible to receive unemployment payments if:

  • you lose your job through no fault of your own; and
  • you have earned enough money while working for an insured employer during a set “base period” prior to losing your job and making a claim.

If you’re approved, you’ll be required to report in each week – either online or by phone – to verify that you are both “able and available” to work (meaning no illness, injury or personal circumstances that would keep you from working) and that you’re actively searching for work.  You’ll also be required to report any wages – like for example part-time or ‘gig’ work – you may have received that week

That’s our starting point and it’s important because – except for one main change we’ll talk about here in a bit – the changes set up in the CARES Act build on the current laws.  That means that for any of this to help you, you have to meet the requirements above.  Got it?  Okay, moving on…

Now let’s look at what’s New and Improved – at least for a little while.

Under the CARES Act, if you qualify for unemployment based upon everything we’ve just talked about, you’re now eligible to receive:

  1. More Money

In what it is calling the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (or FPUC), the federal government has agreed to pay an extra $600 each week on top of whatever dollar amount you qualify for through regular unemployment.

A couple of things to keep in mind here:

  • This is only short term. These extra $600 payments will cut off as of July 31st of this year. Of course, that may change depending on just how long this pandemic – and its after-effects – stick around.  But it will take (literally) another act of Congress to make that happen.
  • Also, states can choose how to make these payments, just so long as they make them each week. So just be aware that you may see your money come in one lump sum each week or as two separate payments.

 2. More Time

This part is what is referred to as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (or PEUC, which is better than having to say that mouthful over and over again.)

PEUC arranges for up to 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits for those who are still unemployed past their state’s set limit.  Each state is a little different, but here in Missouri unemployment payments are cut off after 20 weeks.  With the new law, that can now be extended to 33 weeks.

And that brings us to the final change, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – or PUA – provision.  Everything we’ve talked about so far only applies to people who qualify for “regular” unemployment benefits.  But what if you don’t?  What if you are:

  • an independent contractor?
  • self-employed?
  • a freelance or “Gig” worker such as an Uber, Lyft, or Door Dash driver, musician, artist, DJ, photographer, trucker, or so many others?
  • or just started working before being laid off you and don’t meet the income requirements?

PUA opens the unemployment doors wider for you – but only if you are out of work specifically because of COVID-19 or the restrictions put in place because of it. There’s still a lot to be figured out- including who may get it, how to apply for it, and how much you may receive – but if you weren’t expecting to get anything because of the work you do, now you just might qualify to receive up to 39 weeks of unemployment assistance.  And that is a much-needed light at the end of the tunnel.

PUA opens the unemployment doors wider for you – but only if you are out of work specifically because of COVID-19… And that is a much-needed light at the end of the tunnel.

Whatever your individual situation, if you’ve been laid off, furloughed or had your hours cut because of COVID-19, go to Missouri Department of Labor’s website at labor.mo.gov for the latest information and to sign up for benefits.  As I’m writing this, most of these new changes aren’t in place yet.  Remember this is a federal – not state – program so it’s going to take a little time to get everything up and running.

One other point to make here – there have been more than 104,000 new claims in just the first week since St Louis City and County issued stay at home orders.  And that’s without a state-wide order being in place yet.  Don’t be surprised if have trouble accessing the site.  Be patient, keep trying!

And don’t forget, all this week we’re focusing on income and budgeting here at Prosperity Connection.  So keep checking our website and Facebook page for more tips and information – plus register for our FREE online class on setting up an Emergency Budget for yourself!

Stay Safe St. Louis!

Hope Johnson, Financial Coach