Unemployment benefits, more: These 5 programs will evaporate without more stimulus money


COVID-19 relief benefits are running out. 

CNET Staff

The presidential election is over, and former Vice President Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the US. One major problem he’ll need to work on is getting more stimulus money for his plan to rejuvenate the US economy. Programs created by the CARES Act in March — including the $1,200 stimulus check and the $600 weekly unemployment bonus — will expire on Dec. 31 unless another stimulus bill gets through Congress.

The CARES Act established programs to help Americans financially affected by the pandemic. President Donald Trump added more relief in August when he signed four executive actions after the CARES Act provisions petered out. These final programs will lapse on Dec. 31. Legislators and leading economists agree more aid is needed. 

“We’ll have a stronger recovery if we can just get at least some more fiscal support,” Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, said Nov. 5, acknowledging that Congress has the power to approve stimulus funding. However, legislators have competing approaches.

Read more: Everyone who has until Nov. 21 to claim their first stimulus check

The size of another stimulus package and how soon it could pass are hotly contested along party lines. Congressional Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, prefer a larger package with more programs. Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, want a smaller bill with less funding. It isn’t clear if a future Senate proposal would include a second stimulus check for individuals and families or more unemployment aid.

Until more stimulus aid arrives one way or another, here are the key programs that are set to end.

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Enhanced 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. The PUA is set to end Dec. 31. If the federal government doesn’t extend it, it will be up to the states to determine whether they will step in on Jan. 1.

Weekly $300 bonus unemployment check

The average weekly unemployment benefit doesn’t always equal a worker’s earnings and typically ranges 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 smaller $300 weekly bonus (for a six-week period) with the expectation 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.


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


Eviction protection for renters and homeowners

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 Centers for Disease Control, which called for a halt on evictions for failure to pay rent. This order by the agency covered more households, including renters in 43 million households, but it also has an expiration date of Dec. 31.

Federal student loan deferrals

Students who are paying off federal student loans also received a reprieve under 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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