After the coronavirus slammed the brakes on the U.S. economy, the effects were immediate. Millions of people were left without jobs. Almost 50 million people have filed for unemployment in the last few months. The Federal Reserve is estimating that unemployment could top 30% or more.
For those out of work and wondering how much they’ll get in unemployment insurance, we’ve broken the amounts down by state.
While the extra $600 has ended, Congress is working to extend the extra $300 per week through September 6, 2021.
Here's what you need to know about unemployment benefits.
What Are Unemployment Benefits?
Unemployment benefits are a type of social safety net designed to help you by providing a minimum income if you lose your job.
While the benefit amount varies by state, the national average is between $300 and $400 per week.
That's not a lot, but if you really need a little supplemental income while looking for work, it can help be a stop-gap during emergencies. However, it definitely shouldn't be replacing your emergency fund.
It's also important to note that this isn't a totally free benefit. Your employer pays this benefit as a tax - meaning that they are taking that into consideration when paying you. If you're self employed, you're paying 100% of the unemployment benefit tax.
With that being said, you should regard these benefits as extensions of your compensation.
Furthermore, unemployment benefits are taxable income. Since they are designed to be a short-term replacement for your normal income (which is also taxable), these benefits are taxable. If you don't have any money withheld from your unemployment checks, you could owe money when you file your tax return.
Round 3: American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 ($300/wk)
The American Rescue Plan Act, which was just signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, extends the existing $300/wk benefit through September 6, 2021.
However, one of the big changes is taxability of unemployment compensation. It's important to remember that unemployment compensation is taxable income. This bill makes the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits non-taxable to households with incomes of under $150,000 for 2020.
This is a big deal if you got unemployment last year. If you're already filed your taxes, you should amend your tax return to get a refund on any taxes you paid. If you haven't filed yet, you should wait at least a week for the tax software companies to ensure their programs are updated so that they accurately reflect this change.
Round 2: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 ($300/wk)
The agreement that was just signed by President Trump on December 27, 2020 after being passed by the House and Senate would provide $300 per week in extra unemployment benefits.
This is under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
The current round of stimulus allows for the following:
- Qualified unemployed individuals would receive an extra $300 per week through March 14th, 2021.
- Extending the PUA program by 11 weeks, providing up to 57 weeks of benefits.
- Extending the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program by 11 weeks, providing up to 24 weeks of benefits.
- Continuing the federally funded FED-ED through March 14, 2021, providing up to 20 weeks of benefits.
- Providing a supplement of $100 per week to certain “mixed earners” who received at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income but were eligible for regular unemployment, not PUA.
The goal is to still provide extra assistance, but not discourage work.
Given the delay in the President signing the bill, a week of benefits may lapse, then the payment made up. It depends on how quickly state agencies can act.
Extra: FEMA Unemployment Benefits ($100/wk)
President Trump signed an executive order to use FEMA funds (that were originally earmarked for disaster relief) to be used for unemployment benefits instead. The current amount is approved for $300 per week, with states being allowed to add an extra $100 to make it $400.
Some states are opting for $400, some for $300, and some are not applying for the funds at all. At this point, every state that wants the money is delivering these funds.
To be eligible, a worker must receive at least $100 a week from state unemployment insurance to qualify for the $300 FEMA Unemployment benefit.
Furthermore, the funding is limited, and expected to only last about 3 to 4 weeks until the money runs out. Also, given that this has never been done before, it is unknown when payments will arrive.
Remember, this program is supplemental, and likely will end quickly. It's not a substitute for legislation from Congress.
Round 1: CARES Act Extra Unemployment Benefits ($600/wk)
In addition to any unemployment from your state on a weekly basis, you’ll also receive an extra $600 per week as part of the government relief package. The extra benefit is currently scheduled through July 31, 2020. That could change if the virus impact stretches out longer.
This program is called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Fund (PUAF). Beyond those traditionally unemployed, this extra $600 is eligible to gig workers, self employed individuals, freelancers, and more.
However, these "non-traditional" recipients, like 1099 gig economy workers, may have to go through a different process than normal to receive the $600. It depends on the state, but many states are setting up portals for this.
If you are already receiving unemployment, you’ll still receive the extra $600 per week. The relief package doesn’t exclude people based on income or whether they had started a new job or not.
You can get the benefit for each week you're of a claim between March 29 and July 31.
For example, if the $600 benefit is more per week than you were making before losing your job, you are still eligible. If you were about to start a new job but never made it because of the coronavirus impact, you are still eligible.
Also, if you filed before these dates, you will still get the extra starting on the week of March 29. For example, if you filed for unemployment for the week of March 23, you would NOT get the extra $600 for that week, but it would kick in the week of March 29 if you're still eligible.
- The extra $600/wk is considered taxable income for your federal taxes.
- The extra $600/wk will be disregarded for purposes of determining income for Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”) eligibility.
- The extra $600/wk is considered income for determining any healthcare subsidies you may receive.
FED-ED Extended Unemployment Benefits
While the extra $600 in benefits is currently scheduled to end on July 31, there still may be additional benefits eligible to you if you remain unemployed.
The Federal-State Extended Duration benefits program, known as FED-ED, only becomes available during times of high or prolonged periods of unemployment. Generally, it provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits and is funded 50 percent from the State’s UI Trust Fund, which includes employer-paid taxes on their employees’ wages, and 50 percent from federal funds.
However, each state sets it's own rules for FED-ED eligibility, and the Federal government is stepping to to help cover the costs.
For example, in California, people can now receive up to 26 weeks of regular state benefits, followed by 13 weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. After that, they could begin to collect up to 20 weeks of FED-ED if they remain unemployed, for a total of 59 weeks.
Benefit Amount By State
According to Newsweek, the national unemployment average is $300-$400 per week. Some states, such as Massachusetts, pay as high as $1,000 per week. Unemployment insurance doesn’t cover your entire paycheck. It is usually only 45% of what you used to make. Those who work part-time may still be eligible for unemployment but will be paid a lower amount.
The amount you will receive is based on your compensation before you were unemployed. Every state has a slightly different formula. For example, California determines your weekly benefit amount by dividing your earnings for the highest paid quarter of the base period by 26.
Listed below are the minimum and maximum weekly benefits for each state. Plus, you get an extra $300 per week right now through September 6, 2021.
District of Columbia
How To File For Unemployment
Contacting your state’s unemployment office is the first step. They can answer all of your questions about eligibility and how much you should expect per week. Eligibility will vary by state. For most states, you need to have paid into the unemployment fund, which means you were an employee rather than an independent contractor or self-employed person. Of course, the government relief package has relaxed unemployment requirements.
How soon you’ll receive your first unemployment check also varies by state. Some states have a short waiting period between the time you file and the time your first check goes out. The wait time is usually one week, and some states will still pay you for that week. That has also been relaxed due to the government relief package.
Careeronestop.org has a list of contact information for each state’s unemployment office.
You should be able to file for unemployment online through your state’s website. Once you are laid off, file your unemployment claim as soon as possible. The sooner you file, the sooner you’ll begin receiving unemployment payments. Plus, some states do have a waiting period - such as two weeks - before you can get your first unemployment check.
If you aren’t sure that you qualify for unemployment or even believe you don’t, it’s still worth checking. With the relaxed rules, you might be surprised. In fact, some states are offering unemployment benefits to gig economy workers and freelancers who may not even have qualified before.
What To Do If You're Still Waiting For Unemployment?
People across the country are reporting that they are still waiting for benefits, even in June. That's painful for millions of Americans.
Sadly, the state unemployment systems were not designed for this type of event, but some states definitely made their programs and systems worse than others. I hope you vote in November and hold your elected officials accountable for their poor actions leading up to this event.
But, what can you do now?
First, make sure you use the online portal for your claim if possible. Most states are very under-staffed to handle calls, so if you don't need to call, don't.
Second, if your claim is denied or your still pending, you should try to call at least a few times. We recommend documenting these calls with date, time, wait time, and more. Hopefully this will resolve it if you're patient enough.
Third, if you're still waiting on benefits, you should contact your state legislature representative. In nearly all states, local representatives and assembly members have personnel on staff that can help escalate issues with state departments (like unemployment). In fact, most state departments have a liaison office that helps with these requests, so your situation will be reviewed by higher level managers.
Other Benefits Right Now
There are a lot of programs right now and benefits that you may be able to take advantage of if you lose your job. One of the most popular is the stimulus checks that should be going to over 90% of Americans.
Here are two guides that cover these in more detail:
Losing your job is tough - especially when it's due to something that nobody could control. However, there are options for you if you need help.
Make sure that you file for unemployment right away if you lose your job so that you can start seeing your benefits sooner, rather than later.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.