Note: This article has been updated with new information from the Continued Assistance Act (the second stimulus package).
Most states offer Unemployment Insurance for 26 weeks. If your benefits are about to expire, and you’re still out of work, a low-grade panic may be setting in.
Here are two important things you need to know: One, unemployment extensions are available. But, two, they’re not automatic.
In March, the $2.2 trillion CARES Act authorized federal aid to supplement state-level Unemployment Insurance programs, a provision dubbed Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC. The second stimulus package passed in December revived PEUC, extending UI benefits for 11 more weeks.
Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, told The Penny Hoarder that the PEUC extension will become “incredibly crucial” as state benefits expire.
Data from the Department of Labor proves that. More than 4 million Americans have exhausted their state UI benefits and are relying on the federal extension.
How Unemployment Insurance Extensions Work
As an Unemployment Insurance recipient, you are likely eligible for PEUC, the new extension program from the federal government.
The catch: You can only apply for this extension once you have run out of your state’s unemployment benefits. You can’t pre-register. The Department of Labor directed states to alert you by email or letter if you are potentially eligible for the extension, but made it clear to states to not automatically enroll people.
By design, this may cause an interruption in weekly payments.
Another source of uncertainty is the number of weeks PEUC will extend your unemployment benefits in total. The first stimulus package authorized 13 additional weeks of benefits. The second package authorized 11 more. But it’s more complicated than adding those two figures together and getting 24 extra weeks.
The unemployment provisions laid out in the first stimulus package expired in December 2020. So the 13 extra weeks provided by the CARES Act are no longer available to new applicants.
But even if you didn’t get that first extension, you could still get the 11 additional weeks approved in the second stimulus bill.
The PEUC application is based on your state-level unemployment claims. While you must opt in to receive the additional weeks of benefits, you won’t have to completely reapply.
Under PEUC, your weekly benefits will be the same as your state benefits, the check will just be coming from the federal government.
But Wait. There’s More.
If you are unable to find work after exhausting your state’s program and all additional weeks of PEUC, you may be eligible for a separate extension from your state.
In times of high unemployment rates, 49 states (all except South Dakota) have an Extended Benefits or EB system that adds up to 20 weeks of benefits, according to data compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Provided that local unemployment rates are still high when you exhaust PEUC, you may qualify for more benefits.
“There’s an order of operations here,” Evermore said.
Based on guidance from the Labor department, the order of unemployment programs for typical jobless workers goes like this:
- State UI programs (which vary from 12 to 30 weeks)
- Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (as many as 24 weeks)
- State Extended Benefits or EB (six to 20 weeks)
- The final failsafe if all other programs are exhausted: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a federal program that’s available for a maximum of 50 weeks, including the weeks of all previous programs you may have been on.
For example, Florida has the shortest duration of unemployment benefits, at 12 weeks. The state’s Extended Benefits program is also one of the shortest, at six weeks. The order of operations for all possible extensions in Florida would look like this: 12 weeks of UI, 24 (max) weeks of PEUC, six weeks of EB. The total so far is 42 weeks, meaning Florida residents can potentially use Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for 8 weeks to reach the maximum of 50 weeks of aid.
New York residents who exhaust their state’s program, in contrast, would not be eligible for PUA because the total length of their state benefits plus all available extensions exceeds 50 weeks. By quite a bit, too. Including all sources of assistance, New Yorkers are eligible for up to 70 weeks of unemployment benefits.
“Taken together, the expanded benefits have had a massive effect on the economy,” Evermore said. “Initial unemployment claims are still coming in at unprecedented levels — but this could have been a lot worse without all these federal benefits.”
For jobless applicants, though, taking all this in can be overwhelming. But benefits are there if you can trudge through the paperwork and arcane websites.
“Understanding the difference with all these programs and acronyms is going to be confusing,” Evermore said. “Just follow the instructions from your state agency. The agency is required to give you information on how to apply [for extensions].”
Whatever you do, don’t lose your password to your online unemployment profile.
“The password reset process, in many states, is really difficult,” Evermore said. “You have to call and talk to a password reset person, and then that person will mail you — in the mail — a new password.”
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.