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What to Do When Your Unemployment Benefits Start to Run Out

Other options exist for long-term unemployed, but you need to be proactive

A cutout of a family standing under a light blue umbrella that says unemployment insurance

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En español | It's been more than 10 months since the coronavirus pandemic exploded in the United States. That's a milestone with serious financial consequences for the more than 3 million workers age 50 and older who have lost their jobs during this crisis.

While the rules for collecting unemployment insurance vary by state, in many of them, the maximum length of time a person can collect regular benefits is 26 weeks — or roughly six months. That means many people who haven't been able to find jobs to replace ones they lost this year are now discovering that they also are losing their unemployment benefits. But three programs can help eligible individuals continue to receive crucial financial assistance, as long as they know these options exist and take action to enroll.

Once you run out of weeks to collect benefits through your state's regular unemployment insurance program, you become eligible for federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), a program that stimulus legislation created this year. When those benefits run out, you may be able to collect Extended Benefits (EB), another federal program designed to help states during periods of high unemployment. And yet another program created by coronavirus stimulus legislation, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), could offer you a few more weeks, once your time to collect other benefits is up.

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The types of benefits you are eligible for will depend on the policies in the state where you worked and the conditions of your previous employment, so make sure to discuss all of your options with that state's employment agency. Here's what you should know about how each program could extend the number of weeks you can collect benefits:

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

Under the stimulus legislation enacted this year, people can get benefits for up to an additional 24 weeks after their regular eligibility has expired thanks to a program called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. That's good news, because long-term unemployment is rising: 4 million Americans were jobless for at least 27 weeks, according to the December jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bad news is, in many cases, the transition from regular benefits to PEUC hasn't been seamless, and many people appear to be missing out on money for which they are eligible.

"States are supposed to inform workers when they fall out of regular unemployment insurance that they are eligible for PEUC and give them information about how to apply,” says Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for workers’ rights. “But from what I'm hearing, that's not happening in every state. Unfortunately, during this pandemic, we've found that you have to be incredibly persistent to actually access the benefits you're owed."

Whether or not a state sends out notification, unemployed workers do have to apply to receive PEUC benefits. That means you should be proactive and make sure to complete whatever process your state requires, Evermore says. The PEUC application could be as simple as checking a box on paperwork you already have to complete regularly to continue to receive your usual weekly benefits. Or it could be an additional form you have to complete on your state's unemployment website. Be sure to check with your state agency to find out what you need to do to receive PEUC.

The eligibility requirements for PEUC are the same as your state's requirements for regular unemployment benefits, the only difference being that you've run out of eligibility for the latter. PEUC is paid for by the federal government and the amount of your weekly PEUC benefits should be the same as your regular state benefit.  The PEUC program currently is scheduled to end the week of March 14, 2021. People who are collecting PEUC benefits on March 14 may be eligible to continue to receive benefits until April 5, 2021, depending on their circumstances.

Extended Benefits

In most states, people who have run out of eligibility for both regular unemployment benefits and PEUC could then qualify for a program called Extended Benefits. This federally funded program kicks in during periods of high unemployment within a state. During the week ending Oct. 3, these benefits were available in 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

You should automatically transition into EB once you've exhausted your eligibility for both regular benefits and PEUC, Evermore says. The most common duration for collecting EB — which pays a weekly benefit equal to what you typically qualify for in your state based on your previous income — is a maximum of 13 weeks, but it could be longer or shorter depending on the state where you were working. Be sure to contact your state agency if you have any questions about your eligibility for EB.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Congress created this program this year as a way to offer financial assistance to gig workers and other people who wouldn't otherwise be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. But if you've used up all of your weeks to collect regular benefits, PEUC and EB, you might now qualify to receive PUA.

PUA currently offers its recipients up to 50 weeks of total unemployment benefits through March 14, 2021. Some people who are receiving PUA benefits during the week of March 14 may be eligible to continue to get benefits through April 5, 2021.

Editor’s note: This article originally was published on October 23, 2020. It has been updated with more recent information about when the PEUC and PUA programs will end.

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