How to Get Help After Your Unemployment Benefits Run Out

Tips and Resources for Assistance After Unemployment Relief Expires

Worried woman using laptop to look for a job
••• Getty Images/damircudic

For the more than 50 million Americans who filed for unemployment since the pandemic began, the $600 weekly benefit boost made possible through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expired on July 31, 2020.  

Congress is currently negotiating a plan for another round of unemployment assistance, but the weekly payment of $600, which combined with state unemployment funds has kept many afloat, could be significantly reduced. While the final amount is obviously more beneficial than no supplemental weekly income, any cut could have a significant impact on Americans. And even if the COVID-19-related benefits are extended through the end of 2020, what’s next? If you’re left depending solely on your state’s weekly unemployment, which on average is $333 nationwide, you’ll hardly have enough to make do—and that in itself has its own expiration date.

Because of the uncertainty that may lie ahead, now is the time to get prepared for if and when your unemployment window actually closes. 

Create an Action Plan

Since you likely don’t have a pile of cash to tide you over until the economic outlook appears more positive, you certainly need a strategy. 

A 2018 report from the Federal Reserve found that, if faced with a $400 emergency expense, nearly 40% of adults would need to borrow, sell something, or not be able to handle the expense at all.  

In the midst of an economic crisis, you can’t wing it and hope for the best. Instead, be practical and follow these steps: 

  1. Get organized (note that your to-do list will not be short). 
  2. Understand right now only essential expenses matter, and everything else is a distant second. 
  3. Find out what help is available, be it unemployment extensions in your state or social service programs. 
  4. Re-evaluate your thinking about where you might go hunting for your next employer. 

Find Out If There Are Extensions Available

Unemployment benefits are a state matter. One of the first things you should do is find out whether your state is extending benefits because every state is different. For example, New York provides 20 weeks of additional benefits until the week ending Dec. 27, 2020. In California, with new legislative changes adopted in the state, the Federal-State Extended Duration (FED-ED) provides up to 20 weeks of additional benefits for people who used all of their unemployment benefits during a period of high unemployment. 

The legislative changes also allow California to maximize federal support and meet the high unemployment period requirements under federal law to add an additional seven weeks to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which supports freelancers and others who typically can’t access unemployment insurance. That now makes the maximum benefits available on a PUA claim a total of up to 46 weeks. The FED-ED program will continue until California’s unemployment rate drops below a certain level. For now, there is no end date for the extended benefit period.

You can find a link to your state’s unemployment benefits program here.

Tighten Up Your Budget Immediately

When your unemployment benefits expire and your extension situation remains unclear, it is crucial to immediately keep a closer eye on your budget and cut costs whenever possible. Here are some priorities to consider: 

  • Expenses: Make a list of all of your expenses, then determine what’s necessary and what can be cut. Remember also that you will owe taxes next year on unemployment benefits received.
  • Create a budget and stick to it: Unhitch yourself to the expendables—like some of those subscription services, you can cancel your “extras.” 
  • Trim necessities: Truth is, you’ll need to make adjustments here too. Get creative. For example, you might increase your home and car insurance deductibles in order to lower your monthly premiums. Inquire about any discounts since you’re undoubtedly driving less during the pandemic, too.
  • Rethink your phone plan: Do you have the most cost-effective plan? A change here, an elimination there, and you could easily save a few hundred dollars over the course of several months.
  • Stretch your food budget: It may be challenging given that most people are eating at home more than ever, but shop smart, because you do have time on your hands. Take advantage of coupons, and price-shop online to know where the best deals are. Buy only what you need. Also, go to your state’s website to find local assistance options, such as food banks, and other benefits.

Contact Your Creditors

This is not the time to suffer in silence, so speak up, especially when it comes to your creditors. Contact utility companies, credit card companies, mortgage lenders, and other companies you owe money to, and explain your financial hardship. While many credit card relief programs may be coming to an end soon, some companies may extend relief when asked. Contact your landlord to discuss partial rent payments, too.

Remember, you have nothing to lose by letting creditors know where you stand. You never know when you might get a yes. A lender would rather receive something than nothing at all.

Job Search and Strategies

At a time of unemployment and uncertainty, it is now more important than ever to hone your job search strategy. 

Tap Former Colleagues and Friends About Opportunities

As you fine-tune your resume, let everybody know you’re looking and take advantage of networking groups, both online and offline. This includes social media contacts on Twitter, Facebook groups, any LinkedIn connections that work for the company with the posted position, as well as local chambers and schools in your area. 

Use Online Job Resources

Glassdoor, for example, can be a valuable website to use when searching for a job because it also allows you to look at employer reviews written by current and former employees. 

The Career Development Training and Tutorials section on Lynda, which is now part of LinkedIn Learning, provides tips on interviewing, finding unadvertised jobs, and networking. Many public libraries provide free access to the service.

Think Outside the Box

It might be time to take a part-time job until you can find full-time work, and who knows where the former can lead to. Right now, everything should be on the table, including freelancing. Try sites like Upwork or Fiverr, or search online workplaces for remote hiring.

Agency Resources

Your state’s unemployment agency is an invaluable resource. Typically, you will be able to browse local job opportunities. You may find calendars with listings for job fairs and recruitment events. Also, there may be an opportunity to post your resume so employers can find it. Often, there are links to career centers where you can get help with resume writing, job search strategies, salary negotiations, training classes, interview preparation, and more.

You can find a link to your state’s unemployment agency on the Department of Labor’s website.

Along with unemployment agencies, staffing agencies can be of benefit as they do the job searching for you and provide resume and interview feedback. It’s in the best interest of the staffing agency/headhunter to prepare you for interviews and land you a job because they receive commission fees upon hiring for their services.

Financial Support Services

While you continue your job search and utilize resources like job sites, social networks, and your state unemployment agency, there are several other services you can reach out to for support once unemployment lapses. 

  • Financial assistance: You can go to your state’s website to find options such as help with paying rent, food banks, mental health resources, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a federal program that aids low-income individuals and families.  
  • Financial resources: For more leads on financial assistance, a good resource is USA.gov for information on food assistance, grants, loans, assistance with paying bills, and more.
  • Nonprofits and organizations: You can also tap local houses of worship and civic-minded organizations that may have programs. There are options out there like Humanity Forward, a nonprofit organization created by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang that is giving people in need $1,000 cash stipends.
  • Community Action Agency (CAA): Another option is to reach out to the Community Action Agency (CAA) in your area. This agency can offer short-term help with expenses such as energy bills, housing, and transportation. It can also provide information and referrals to other government programs. Most CAAs also provide emergency aid, such as food pantries and shelters. Some groups offer services related to education, job training, child care, food aid, and health care. To find a CAA in your area, use the search feature run by the Community Action Partnership.
  • Call 211: The 211 program is run by United Way Worldwide. The program can connect you with programs in your state regarding food and nutrition programs, such as food banks, shelter, housing aid, and utility assistance, job training and education opportunities, and more.

The Bottom Line

Your unemployment benefits may be lapsing soon, but with a little preparation, you can improve upon a distressing situation. Here are some key steps to follow:  

Look for potential extensions Find out whether your state is offering any extension of benefits through the Department of Labor portal. 

Tighten your budget Mind your spending habits, cut unnecessary expenses, create a budget (particularly for food, gas and bills), and stick to it. 

Leverage your network Let your job search and presence be known by tapping your social media and offline networks including Facebook groups, LinkedIn connections, as well as local chambers and schools. 

Utilize unemployment and staffing agencies These agencies are an invaluable resource for local job opportunities, posting your resume, listings for job fairs and recruitment events, job placement, interview tips, and more. 

Seek financial assistance Take advantage of financial support services including SNAP, USA.gov, nonprofits, CAA, and 211. 

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor Blog. "4 Things to Know About Unemployment Benefits Under the CARES Act." Accessed August 3, 2020. 

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims." Accessed August 3, 2020. 

  3. Committee on Finance. "American Workers, Families, and Employers Assistance Act. Title I: Further Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus." Accessed August 3, 2020. 

  4. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "Policy Basics: Unemployment Insurance." Accessed August 3, 2020. 

  5. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. "Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018." Page 2. Accessed August 3, 2020. 

  6. New York State Department of Labor. "Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Extended Benefits (EB) Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed August 3, 2020. 

  7. State of California, Employment Development Department. "FED-ED Extension." Accessed August 3, 2020. 

  8. State of California, Employment Development Department. "Pandemic Unemployment Assistance." Accessed August 3, 2020.