Unemployment Benefit Extensions: What You Need to Know

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The American Rescue Plan Act buys millions of unemployed Americans a good six months longer to collect benefits.

The extension of special pandemic unemployment relief programs through Sept. 6 impacts 18 million people, according to lawmakers—including an estimated 11.4 million who were about to lose their benefits completely. And the timing of the legislation means most are unlikely to see a lapse in benefits like the last time these programs were extended, according to the Century Foundation (TCF), a progressive think tank.

Here’s what you need to know about amounts, timing, and paying income taxes on your benefits. 

Which Unemployment Programs Were Extended? 

The bill extends the entire alphabet soup of federal unemployment programs created by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic, most notably:

  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which allows self-employed and gig workers who don’t qualify for regular unemployment to get benefits
  • The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which makes additional weeks of unemployment benefits available to people who exhaust their regular state benefits
  • The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which provides a $300 weekly supplement to all other forms of unemployment payments, including the ones above.

How Long Does the Extension Last? 

All programs have been extended through Sept. 6, from their previous expiration date of March 14.

How Many Weeks of Unemployment Can I Claim Now?

Along with the extensions to Sept. 6, both PUA and PEUC were lengthened so that those who began collecting benefits at the start of the pandemic—even just before—can stay on the programs. In many cases, someone unemployed can continue to collect benefits for up to 79 weeks, or about a year and a half.

More specifically, the number of weeks someone can stay on PUA was increased to 79 from 50, while those eligible for PEUC—which kicks in after normal state benefits run out (often 26 weeks, depending on the state)—will now get 53 extra weeks rather than 24 extra weeks.

Even the special federal unemployment benefits are administered through individual state agencies. Specific eligibility and amounts for this pandemic relief depend on the state in which you live, the Department of Labor has said previously, although it hasn’t updated its website since the American Rescue Plan was enacted.

Will I Get Any More Money Each Week? 

No. Anyone collecting unemployment will continue to get the same amount per week: the amount they qualify for under their specific program, plus an additional $300 provided by the FPUC. (An earlier version of the legislation had proposed increasing the FPUC amount to $400, but it failed.)

Will My Payments Be Delayed?

In late December, the last time these unemployment programs were extended, the legislation came so last-minute that benefit payments lapsed in many cases. But that’s unlikely to happen this time around because of a phaseout built into the last extension, according to TCF. March 14 was the last time someone could have been added to the program, but people still eligible to collect benefits were scheduled to continue collecting them through April 11.

“Many states that had delays in January are confident that they will be able to pay without any delay this time,” Alex Edwards, director of communications at TCF, wrote in an email. “We expect some workers could experience a 1- or 2-week delay, but most will not.”

Do I Have to Pay Taxes on the Unemployment Benefits I Receive? 

Although many people may be unaware, unemployment benefits are taxable by the IRS, and also count as income in some states. But lawmakers included a provision in the American Rescue Plan Act to help: the first $10,200 of unemployment income in 2020 is not subject to federal income taxes for taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000.

The IRS said Friday it’s working out how this will be implemented and those who have already filed their 2020 taxes should not file amended returns if they have collected unemployment.