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Unemployment benefits in the coronavirus stimulus package: 5 things you need to know

March 27, 2020, 3:07 PM UTC

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The American people are one step closer to receiving much-needed financial assistance amid a pandemic that has ravaged the U.S. economy, after President Trump signed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package into law on Friday.

Already, the economic indicators are devastating. Nearly 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 21—not only a U.S. record, but more than four times as much as the previous one-week record set in 1982. As the coronavirus outbreak continues to force Americans indoors and businesses to close, that number will almost certainly worsen in the weeks to come.

In addition to providing direct cash payments, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocates around $250 billion in unemployment benefits for the ever-growing ranks of Americans who have lost their jobs. Here’s a look at how the measure aims to help those who are out of work.

Who is eligible for unemployment benefits?

The CARES Act extends unemployment insurance to workers who usually aren’t eligible for such benefits at the state level—so long as their unemployment is connected to the coronavirus outbreak. Those who will now be eligible include part-time employees, freelancers, independent contractors, gig workers, and the self-employed.

How much are the unemployment benefits worth?

Under the CARES Act, the federal government will provide $600 a week to individuals who are eligible for unemployment insurance. The federal assistance will complement existing state unemployment benefits, which typically cover a percentage of an unemployed individual’s previous salary.

How long do these unemployment benefits last?

The federal government’s $600 weekly payout to unemployed workers will last for a period of up to four months through July 31. Additionally, the CARES Act will extend state-level unemployment insurance by an additional 13 weeks. For instance, whereas most state unemployment benefits last 26 weeks, the bill extends benefits in those states to 39 weeks. The extended benefits will last through Dec. 31, 2020.

When will the unemployment benefits take effect?

The bill incentivizes states to pay out unemployment benefits as early as possible, by having the federal government cover the first week of benefits for states that pay recipients as soon as they become eligible (instead of waiting the customary one-week period before awarding unemployment insurance).

What if the job I lost because of the coronavirus is a recently started one?

Some good news. For those who lost jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and wouldn’t usually qualify for unemployment benefits owing to insufficient work history, the CARES Act effectively waives such work history requirements and allows those workers to receive unemployment benefits.

Update, March 27, 2020: This article has been updated to reflect the passage of the CARES Act into law.

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