What to Do When 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

As of November, over 20 million U.S workers were still collecting some form of unemployment benefits, with 778,000 filing claims for the first time in the week ending Nov. 21. And as Congress continues to stall on passing a new stimulus package, time is quickly running out for those who rely on pandemic-related unemployment assistance. 

In an email interview with The Balance, Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, pointed out that the remaining pandemic-related unemployment provisions, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), will, as of now, only be payable through Dec. 26. “This will impact millions of people,” she said.

According to estimates, approximately 12 million U.S. workers, in fact, could be impacted after Dec. 26 if Congress fails to act on stimulus legislation. In a situation like this where there is no concrete relief plan in sight, and the state weekly unemployment benefit—averaging close to $320 nationwide—is hardly enough to cover rent and bills, it’s time to turn uncertainty into action and get prepared for if and when your unemployment insurance (UI) window closes.

Check for Extensions or Emergency Help

Workers in most states are eligible for up to 26 weeks of benefits from the regular state-funded unemployment compensation program. Under the CARES Act, however, all states have provided 13 additional weeks of PEUC to people who exhaust their regular state benefits, followed by additional weeks of federally funded extended benefits (EB) in states with high unemployment for up to 13 or 20 weeks, depending on state laws.

One of your first priorities is to find out whether your state is offering EB because state policies can vary. For example, New York provides 20 weeks of additional benefits until the week ending Dec. 27, 2020. In Colorado, meanwhile, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order directing the Division of Unemployment Insurance to make one-time stimulus payments of $375 to eligible Coloradans experiencing economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And 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 PUA program, which supports independent contractors, freelancers, and others who typically may not have access to UI. As a result of the changes, the PUA program now includes up to 46 weeks of benefits from Feb. 2, 2020, through Dec. 26, 2020, depending on when you were directly affected by COVID-19. 

Some states provide more or less weeks of unemployment compensation than the standard 26-week maximum. Investigate what your state’s unemployment program offers.

Tighten Your Budget

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, determine what’s necessary, and what can be cut. Also, remember that you will owe taxes next year on unemployment benefits received.
  • Create a budget and stick to it: Unhitch yourself from the expendables—like some of those subscription services. Cancel “extras.” 
  • Trim necessities: For example, increase your home and car insurance deductibles in order to lower your monthly premiums. Inquire about any discounts since you may be driving less during the pandemic, too.
  • Rethink your phone plan: Do you have the most cost-effective plan? A change here or an elimination there could allow you to easily save a few hundred dollars over several months.
  • Stretch your food budget: Buy only what you need, take advantage of coupons, and price-shop online to discover where the best deals are. Also, browse your state’s website for local assistance options, such as food banks and other benefits.

Contact Your Lenders and Landlords

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 or have expired, some companies may extend relief when asked. Visit your lender’s website for the latest information on any relief programs they may have or had in place. Contact your landlord to discuss partial rent payments, too. Your state may also come to your rescue. See what your state is currently doing in terms of rent and mortgage eviction relief.

In September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order that temporarily halted residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. You can find out if you meet the criteria by researching information on Princeton University research unit Eviction Lab’s website. 

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.

Rethink Your Job Search

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

Cast a Wide Net

Fine-tune your resume and let everybody know you’re looking. 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 of commerce and schools in your area. 

There are other online resources like Glassdoor. It 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 Lynda access to their cardholders.

In addition, make sure to keep an open mind. 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.

Utilize Your State Unemployment Agency

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

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

Along with unemployment agencies, staffing agencies can be beneficial 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. 

Seek Financial Support

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: Go to your state’s website to find options such as help with paying rent, food banks, mental health resources, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 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. The CAA offers short-term help with expenses such as energy bills, housing, and transportation. It also provides information and referrals to other government programs. Most CAAs provide emergency aid, such as food pantries and shelters. Some groups offer services related to education, job training, childcare, 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, utility assistance, job training, education opportunities, and more.

Key Takeaways

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 benefit extensions listed on your state’s Department of Labor portal
  • Create a budget and stick to it
  • Remove or trim unnecessary expenditures
  • Leverage your network when job searching
  • Utilize unemployment and staffing agencies
  • Seek financial assistance like SNAP, 211, and nonprofits