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What will happen with the unemployment benefits at the end of December?

Expanded unemployment benefits put in place in the spring to tackle the economic consequences of the coronavirus will expire at the end of the year.

What will happen with the unemployment benefits at the end of December?
JOE RAEDLE AFP

Back in March as the gravity of covid-19 pandemic was becoming clear the US Government took action to shore up the finances of businesses and individuals affected by the near collapse of economic activity. As part of the raft of measures taken were expanded unemployment benefits for many Americans who were laid off as businesses were ordered to close their doors in an attempt to flatten the curve. Several of these federal programs have expired and those that are still providing a safety net will conclude before the end of the year.

Unless the US Government can once again come together and pass new legislation to keep suffering Americans afloat who are still unemployed or find themselves out of work as the latest surge of cases continues to swell, they will have to rely on their state unemployment benefits if they still have any left.

What benefits will disappear?

As part of the CARES Act states unemployment benefits were extended by 13 weeks to most state’s 26 weeks (or six months) of benefits. If an individual exhausted their state benefits then the extension, known as Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, would kick in. However, those extra weeks will not carry over into the new year without any action in Washington. With infections expected to surge on top of the latest wave more closures can be expected in addition to those already in place.

Also included in the CARES Act was a provision for $600 in extra unemployment benefits but those funds ended in July. In August Donald Trump used FEMA emergency funds to extend those top-ups but only to the tune of $300 and for up to six weeks with the expectation that a new round of stimulus would be forthcoming. Those funds have been exhausted in most states and must be doled out before 27 December or they will be lost. All sides have been deadlocked on approving any new relief funds with different bills not garnering sufficient support in Congress.

What unemployment benefits will be available after December?

If no legislative action is taken before the end of the year most individuals who have already used up their state unemployment benefits will be high and dry. Those who have not used their state benefits yet will be able to file for unemployment payments through their state but will not be able to take advantage of the programs that were put into place at the start of the economic crisis brought on by the covid-19 pandemic.

The benefits that individuals who find themselves out of work can expect to receive vary from state to state. Some states have up to 20 weeks of extended benefits on top of the state's standard unemployment insurance. These additional weeks are activated during periods of high unemployment according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. However, other states have paltrier benefits like Florida with just 12 weeks of unemployment insurance and no extended benefits.

The full allotment of benefits is available during a 52-week period from the time of the first claim. If an individual has used up all of their unemployment insurance they will need to wait until that benefit period has expired barring any new action on Capitol Hill. So, if an individual became unemployed in March 2020, they will need to wait until March 2021 for new benefits.

However, if a person became unemployed and started claiming benefits but then went back to work without using their full allotment, they will still be entitled to the remainder of their benefits should they become unemployed again.

What unemployment benefits am I eligible for?

A person’s best bet is to check with their state unemployment insurance agency to find out more about their eligibility for unemployment benefits. Career One Stop site, sponsored by the federal Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, provides links and contact information for every state’s unemployment insurance agency.