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Unemployment and more: 5 benefits that could go up in smoke without stimulus money

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Multiple helpful programs will go away without stimulus money.


Angela Lang/CNET

Election Day is tomorrow, and there won’t be a new stimulus package before the votes are counted, or perhaps even months after. President Donald Trump wants a plan that could renew extra unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans “immediately” after the elections, he said Oct. 30. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would prefer to wait until January 2021, he said the same day. 

“I think that’ll be something we’ll need to do right at the beginning of the year. We could target it particularly at small businesses that are struggling, and hospitals that are now dealing with the second wave of the coronavirus, and of course the challenges for education,” McConnell said, listing three funding areas. He did not mention a second stimulus check for individuals and families or unemployment aid. Experts consider this recent record-breaking uptick in COVID-19 cases to be a third surge.

The timeline is critical for the fate of multiple programs intended to provide relief and fund programs aimed to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The CARES Act, passed in March, provided assistance to hundreds of millions of Americans who were out of a job or in need of more money when the pandemic first took root. Benefits included a $1,200 stimulus payment and a $600 weekly unemployment bonus. In August, Trump signed four executive actions intended to extend some of these programs to some degree. But all of the most significant coronavirus relief programs are set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, setting the stage for a morass of financial difficulties starting on Jan. 1, including an expected uptick in people filing for personal bankruptcy.

Here are the major programs that are set to end.

Read more: You don’t have to be a US citizen living in America to get a stimulus check


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Unemployment benefits 

Individual states handle unemployment insurance claims, determining if a person is eligible, how much they receive and for how long they can collect. Though it varies from state to state, the CARES Act extended the duration of benefits from 26 weeks to 39 weeks. Starting on Jan. 1, those additional 13 weeks provided by the federal government are gone. 

Some states have already backfilled the void on their own, including increasing their benefit period up to 59 weeks, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Others, including Alabama, Arkansas and Utah, haven’t taken action on it, which could leave unemployed workers in those states without assistance as the new year begins.   

Read more: Coronavirus unemployment: Who is covered, how to apply and how much it pays

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program

Another initiative of the CARES Act, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, also known as PUA, provided economic relief to those who wouldn’t typically qualify for unemployment: self-employed workers, contractors and gig workers. At the moment, the PUA is set to end on Dec. 31. If the federal government doesn’t extend it, it will be up to the states to determine whether they can step in on Jan. 1.

$300 weekly unemployment benefit bonus

The average weekly unemployment benefit doesn’t always equal a worker’s earnings, typically running between $300 and $600. To help fill the gap, the CARES Act added a weekly unemployment benefit bonus of $600. When that bonus expired on July 31, Trump signed an executive memo paving the way for a $300 weekly bonus (for a six-week period) with the expectation that Congress would soon pass another relief package. That hasn’t happened, and most states have exhausted the six weeks of extra funding. The $300 bonus provision is set to end on Dec. 27, according to the president’s memo, and is expected to sunset unused.

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Can Congress piece these programs back together before more damage is done? It’s a waiting game.


Angela Lang/CNET

Eviction protection

The CARES Act provided limited protection on evictions by only focusing on homes backed with a federal mortgage loan or households that received some type of federal funding. The protections were then expanded in September by the Center for Disease Control, which called for a halt on evictions. Although this order by the agency did cover more households, including renters in 43 million households, it also has an expiration date of Dec. 31.

Student loan deferment

Students who are paying off federal student loans also received a reprieve from the CARES Act, which gave them the option to defer their loan payments (and which paused the accrual of interest) until the end of September 2020. In August, Trump extended the deferment until Dec. 31. On Jan. 1, loan servicers will once again be able to charge interest on these loans and students may have to resume paying them off unless the servicers offer deferment options. 

For more information, here’s the latest status of stimulus negotiations, and here’s everything we know about the next relief bill.

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