Enhanced unemployment benefits have been a lifeline for millions of Americans for the last year and a half, but that aid has come to an end.
Roughly 7.5 million Americans lost access to these extra federal benefits entirely on Sept. 6, and another three million saw their checks cut by $300 a week, according to a report by progressive public policy firm The Century Foundation.
That leaves a total of almost 11 million — many who don’t traditionally qualify for unemployment benefits, such as gig workers and caregivers — figuring out how to adjust their finances without the support of the expired benefits.
“People only started looking for work, at least most people who got vaccinated. It’s a very short time to find a job,” says Andrew Stettner, an unemployment researcher who authored the report. “We’ve made a lot of progress on people getting jobs, but we’re not all the way there.”
Monday’s unemployment cliff is the largest that jobless workers have faced in history, according to Stettner. He says the cliff’s impact is especially pronounced for women and caregivers who dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic, and Black and Latinx workers who face persistent discrimination in the labor market and have higher unemployment rates than white workers.
For Americans who remain unemployed, we’ve rounded up some of the most common questions about unemployment, along with the answers and expert advice that can help you better understand the current landscape.
Unemployment Benefits FAQ
- Which unemployment programs ended on Labor Day weekend?
- How many people lost their jobless benefits?
- What happened in states that cut off enhanced unemployment benefits early?
- Could pandemic unemployment benefits be extended past Labor Day?
- Can I still apply for unemployment insurance?
- How do I apply for unemployment insurance in my state?
- How much are unemployment benefits in my state?
- Are there other relief programs available?
- Are there resources that can help me find a job?
- What should I do once unemployment benefits run out?
1. Which unemployment programs ended on Labor Day weekend?
Under the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan, unemployment benefits became more generous, easier to access, and longer-lasting to help mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. These enhanced benefits were provided by three major programs that ended on Sept. 6:
- Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC): $300 per week federal supplement that has been paid in addition to full state benefits
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): Benefits for workers not usually eligible for unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers, freelancers, and other gig workers
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): Assistance for those who are still unemployed after exhausting their state benefits — in many states, standard unemployment insurance lasts for 26 weeks
The expiration of extra federal benefits largely doesn’t affect traditional state unemployment programs. However, after Sept. 6, certain states with higher unemployment rates and smaller benefits may feel the loss of federal benefits more acutely.
There are 10 high-unemployment states currently eligible for the Federal–State Extended Benefit program, which provides an additional 13 to 20 weeks of benefits, but Stettner predicts that only four states — Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Mexico — will be able to transition PEUC recipients to that program, because those states are offering 50% funding. Even within those four states, PEUC recipients may not be able to extend their benefits if they have previously participated in the Extended Benefit program. The other six states will only participate if they can receive 100% federal funding.
2. How many people lost their jobless benefits?
It’s estimated around 7.5 million people have been cut off from aid, and more than three million people who get the weekly $300 bonus to their state unemployment benefits have been affected. That brings the total number of people affected by the Sept. 6 expiration date to almost 11 million.
In addition to that, August was an underwhelming month for job growth, with the economy adding just 235,000 positions, the Labor Department reported Friday. Economists polled by Bloomberg predicted 725,000 new hires for August, while a separate Reuters survey had economists predicting 728,000. Still, the unemployment rate is on a steady — if slow — decline, dropping from 5.4% to 5.2%.
3. What happened in states that cut off enhanced unemployment benefits early?
Governors in roughly two dozen states ended federal aid early over the summer, claiming that the extra unemployment benefits were disincentivizing people from finding work and led to labor shortages. Around that time, the economy and the job market were beginning to show solid signs of growth. Jobs were added to the economy overall, although many retail and dining businesses struggled to hire employees and continue to struggle.
Several studies over the last year have disputed claims that jobless benefits deter people from returning to work. Labor Department data released in August shows people living in states that cut off benefits early haven’t rushed back to work. Job growth in states that cut enhanced jobless benefits has been parallel to states that kept the benefits.
In a July Census Bureau data study, Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts economist, found in states that ended federal programs early, adults receiving extra unemployment benefits fell by 2.2%, but employment didn’t increase. At the same time, employment rose by 0.2% in states that didn’t end extended unemployment insurance prematurely.
Because COVID-19 cases have started to rise again due to the Delta variant, there’s a newfound uncertainty around the economy and job market.
4. Could pandemic unemployment benefits be extended past Labor Day?
Having passed the deadline, White House officials and lawmakers have not indicated the expired benefits will continue. Enhanced unemployment insurance programs were always intended to be temporary, and “there’s been no serious effort to extend the benefits,” according to Stettner.
“I think Congress just kind of got tired of this issue. Expanding these programs is not cheap, and they want to move on to other things,” Stettner says. While there’s a chance that Congress authorizes new unemployment benefits in the future, nothing has been announced.
5. Can I still apply for unemployment insurance?
Each state handles and regulates its unemployment benefits differently, so whether or not you qualify for unemployment will depend on a variety of factors in your state. According to the Department of Labor, there are three general criteria to be eligible for unemployment benefits:
- You’re unemployed through “no fault of your own.” In most states, this means you can only receive unemployment benefits if there’s a lack of available work — not if you voluntarily quit or are fired from your job.
- You have to meet hour and/or wage requirements. Each state has its own guidelines for the amount wages earned or hours worked before you can qualify for unemployment.
- You meet any additional requirements in your state. Additional unemployment requirements can vary significantly depending on where you live.
6. How do I apply for unemployment insurance in my state?
Every state runs its own unemployment insurance program. For a starting point, use our guide to learn how to file for unemployment in your state. If you’re looking for more specific enrollment information or want to stay up-to-date on your benefits, your state’s unemployment website is the best place to go.
7. How much are unemployment benefits in my state?
There isn’t a universal amount for unemployment benefits in the U.S.; each state uses its own formula. You won’t know how much you will receive from your state until after you apply. Typically, the amount you receive in unemployment aid is based on a percentage of your previous 12 months of income. There’s a maximum weekly benefit amount, so you will default to the maximum amount if your weekly payout from your most recent job is larger than that. Unemployment benefits are taxed as if they are wages. Depending on where you live, you may also have to pay state income taxes on your unemployment benefits.
8. Are there other relief programs available?
Enhanced unemployment benefits are no longer available, but there are other COVID-19 relief programs that you can lean on right now for help.
- Ask your mortgage lender about COVID-19 forbearance if you own a home and can’t cover your mortgage payments. The deadline to apply is Sept. 30.
- If you’re struggling to pay rent, start a dialogue with your landlord and check out these rent-relief resources. Some states are still offering utility assistance, too.
- Student loan payments and interest are on pause through Jan. 31. Take advantage of these upcoming months to save any money that typically goes toward your student loans.
- If you’re struggling to cover the cost of child care, you may get assistance through local and state programs.
- If you can’t afford groceries, you may be able to qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is commonly referred to as food stamps. There are also food assistance programs specific to children, women, and seniors.
- Talk to your credit card issuers and lenders to see if you can lower your interest rate, settle your debt, or qualify for any pandemic-related relief or forbearance programs.
- You may qualify to receive Child Tax Credit payments of up to $3,600 per eligible child. They’re intended to help parents cover the costs of raising children, but there are no restrictions on what families can do with the money. If you qualify, our favorite personal finance experts who also happen to be parents shared six ways to best use the credit.
9. Are there resources that can help me find a job?
Several local and Internet resources can help you find a job. Contact your local unemployment office to see if they can help you apply to jobs in your area or begin your search online at CareerOneStop, the Labor Department’s jobs website. There are also several online platforms such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster that you can use to apply to available jobs.
10. What should I do once unemployment benefits run out?
Now’s the time to focus on what you can do to better your financial situation and develop a plan moving forward. Here are a few actions you can take to get started, which we have collected over time from experts:
- Start looking for a “survival” job to help cover your necessary living expenses, even if it doesn’t align with your long-term career goals.
- Reassess your budget and make it as lean as possible by cutting back on non-essential spending and other potential costs. If you don’t have a budget, start one by following these tips.
- If you have an emergency fund, now is the time to rely on it.
- If you don’t have an emergency fund but have a 401(k), you may be able to tap into it penalty-free via loans or even special hardship withdrawals through Sept. 30. If you aren’t eligible, consider withdrawing from your 401(k) only as a last resort.
- Ask your circle of friends, family, or work colleagues for help if you’re struggling financially. They may be able to temporarily help you out or guide you on what to do next if you talk to them about your situation.
- Reach out to organizations in your community for assistance, such as local food banks, charities, and nonprofit centers.
- When possible, restock your emergency savings. Even if you’re contributing only $5 a week back to your fund, it will build up over time.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or guilty about your finances, give yourself some grace and practice self-care. Your mental health matters just as much as your financial health.