Essential Benefits You Can Receive on Unemployment8 min read
The COVID-19 epidemic has taken a booming U.S. economy and ground it to a halt. Within just two weeks, 10 million Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment, dwarfing prior records and pulling the U.S. toward recession. While hopes remain high that the virus can be slowed or stopped and the economy can get back on track, millions of workers need assistance now. If you find yourself in this position, the recent $2 trillion CARES Act may provide some relief. Here’s a list of already-existing benefits that may help you if you find yourself unemployed, in addition to more benefits brought about by the CARES Act.
Last updated: April 12, 2020
1. Unemployment Checks
Unemployment insurance is a joint state-federal program that provides weekly checks to qualifying workers. You’ll be paid a percentage of your weekly income over the prior 52 weeks. Most states limit the duration of unemployment benefits to 26 weeks. The recently passed CARES Act provides additional federal benefits of up to $600 per week through July 31, 2020. It also provides for an additional 13 weeks of unemployment payments beyond the regular state expiration.
How To Qualify For Unemployment Checks During This Crisis
All states must follow federal rules regarding unemployment, but they are empowered to administer their own individual unemployment programs. However, generally, you must have lost your job through no fault of your own, you must have earned a certain amount before you lost your job and you must be actively seeking work that you are willing to accept. You must refile for unemployment checks every week that you are eligible. In these times, some of those requirements may be loosened, particularly the “actively looking for work” mandate as there are lockdowns across the country.
2. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as “food stamps,” is a benefits card program managed by the federal government. Qualifying low-income individuals can use these cards like debit cards to buy food at authorized grocers and farmers markets.
How To Qualify For SNAP During This Crisis
Every state has its own SNAP eligibility form. To qualify, you must meet the income standards for each state, which are updated annually. Generally, the SNAP application process takes 30 days. During this time, you’ll be scheduled for an eligibility interview and you must submit verification of your income and expenses. If you’re eligible, you’ll then receive your card. Benefits will be automatically loaded on the card monthly.
Medicaid is a state-administered health insurance that is managed under federal requirements. The program covers over 72.5 million adults, including eligible low-income adults, pregnant women, children, people with disabilities and elderly adults. Health benefits provided by the program are generally free or low-cost.
How To Qualify For Medicaid During This Crisis
Admission into the Medicaid program is mandatory for so-called mandatory eligible groups. Examples include qualified pregnant women and children, low-income families and individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Many other groups can also qualify. You can answer some simple online questions about your income, health and living situation to determine if you are eligible for Medicaid. You can apply for Medicaid through your own state agency or through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
4. Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program (CHIP)
The Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program is designed to fill a gap for those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to pay for private insurance. This program is run in conjunction with the federal government, but as it is administered by the states, specifics may vary. For instance in some states, pregnant women are also covered. However, all states provide comprehensive coverage, including doctor visits, routine check-ups, immunizations and prescriptions.
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How To Qualify For CHIP During This Crisis
Health insurance is a critical benefit, especially for lower-income taxpayers with families. If you’ve lost your insurance due to the current crisis, the CHIP program may be a critical stopgap. You can qualify if you are under 19 or are a primary caregiver for a child under 19, do not have health insurance and fall under certain income requirements. For example, if there are four members in your household, your income before taxes cannot exceed $103,000.
5. Subsidized Housing
Federal and state governments have always had programs to help low-income individuals find rental housing. These programs generally work with federal dollars subsidizing local housing programs to assist low-income Americans. With so many Americans out of work, the federal government has stepped up its subsidies to provide temporary rental relief for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
How To Qualify For Subsidized Housing During This Crisis
If the apartment you live in is backed by a federal mortgage, you can’t be evicted for failure to pay rent. This 120-day moratorium started on March 27, so you’re safe from eviction until late July. During this time, you cannot be charged late fees or penalties if you aren’t paying your rent.
6. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
If you’re having trouble paying your energy bills, you can apply for federal assistance via the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Specifically, the program can help you manage costs related to your home energy bills, energy crises or weatherization and minor, energy-related home repairs. Targeted households are those with the lowest incomes that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy.
How To Qualify For LIHEAP During This Crisis
Even if you never qualified for LIHEAP before, if you find yourself unemployed, you may now be able to benefit from this program. States define eligibility for the program, but federal regulations cap income limits at 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or 60% of the state median income, and no less than 110% of the FPG. If you find yourself in this range due to your unemployment, you may now be able to qualify.
7. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
The federal government provides grants to U.S. states and territories to assist needy families with financial assistance and support services through the TANF program. As with most of the benefits programs on this list, the TANF program is federally run but administered by the states. Job preparation, work assistance and child care assistance are some of the benefits typically offered by individual state programs.
How To Qualify For TANF During This Crisis
You’ll have to check with your state agency to determine the exact qualifications and benefits of the TANF program in your state. However, the general requirements are the same as with the CHIP program. Namely, you’ll need to be either pregnant or responsible for a child under age 19. You must also have low or very low income and be underemployed, unemployed or about to become unemployed.
8. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
The Supplemental Security Income program is a division of the U.S. Social Security system. It pays benefits to disabled adults and children with limited income and resources. Adults 65 and over with disabilities can also qualify if they meet the financial limits. For 2020, you can draw up to $783 per month as an individual, or $1,175 if you have an eligible spouse, in addition to $392 for an eligible person.
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How To Qualify For SSI During This Crisis
If you’ve lost your income, you may become eligible for this program, even if you never were before. Qualification standards can be extensive, but essentially anyone who is 65, blind or disabled and with limited income and resources who is a U.S. citizen or national can qualify. You can apply for SSI benefits online, via phone or at a Social Security office.
9. Student Loan Assistance
The federal government has always offered a wide range of grants, loans, work-study programs and scholarships to help make higher education more affordable. If you’re recently unemployed due to the coronavirus epidemic, the terms of your student loan might become difficult to manage. Fortunately, help has arrived.
How To Qualify For Student Loan Assistance During This Crisis
Thanks to the recently passed CARES legislation, student loan borrowers automatically receive a much-needed perk. Under the Act, all student loan payments are automatically stopped from March 13 through Sept. 30, 2020. The interest rate is being set at 0% over the same time period, even for loans currently in default.
10. Small Business Administration Assistance
The SBA exists solely to provide economic assistance to the nation’s small businesses. Through the SBA, businesses can borrow up to $5 million in certain circumstances, although SBA Express loans are limited to $350,000. However, the SBA offers many kinds of financial assistance to small businesses, including Emergency Economic Injury Grants.
How To Qualify For SBA Assistance During This Crisis
If your business has ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 epidemic, help is on the way from the federal government. The CARES Act directs a major portion of its economic strength directly at small businesses. For starters, you can apply for a quick $10,000 cash infusion to your business with an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance. You can also apply for a Paycheck Protection Program, which is an expanded version of the traditional SBA 7(a) loan program. Under the PPP, you can get a two-year loan at an interest rate of 1% that may even be forgiven if you keep your employees on the payroll for eight weeks and use the funds for payroll, mortgage interest, utilities or rent.
11. Employment or Training Programs
The federal government offers a number of employment or training programs for unemployed Americans, most of which are free or low-cost. If you find yourself unemployed due to COVID-19, it can be a good time to learn a new skill or look for other available opportunities. If your layoff was only temporary, you will still have gained new skills and/or a better perspective of the employment landscape.
How To Qualify For Employment or Training Programs During This Crisis
Contact the American Jobs Center to determine if you can qualify for any training programs, including the following:
- Retraining for qualifying laid-off workers, with funding provided by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
- Trade Adjustment Assistance, designed to help workers who lost their job due to increased foreign imports or the shifting of production out of the United States
- Additional resources for laid-off workers via the Dislocated Worker/Rapid Response program
Numerous other specialized employment and training programs exist, including those for older workers, Native Americans, refugees, youths and farm workers.
Note that although there are nearly 2,400 American Job Center locations nationwide, most if not all are physically closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. You can still reach many AJCs online, however.
12. Bank Relief Programs
Although banks often get a hard time for charging high fees, they’ll usually assist customers facing extreme economic pressure. After all, it is in a bank’s best interest to help its customers find a way to meet their obligations. If you find yourself unemployed, don’t hesitate to contact your bank, mortgage lender or utility company. You may find that they are more than willing to work out payment deferrals or other arrangements to help you through a difficult economic time.
How To Qualify For Bank Relief During This Crisis
In light of the coronavirus outbreak, many banks are developing programs to help out unemployed or otherwise struggling customers. Bank of America, for example, has unveiled a Client Assistance Program in which customers can submit an online request for deferrals on credit card, vehicle or home loan payments. In New York, an emergency order from the governor requires institutions to provide relief for customers suffering hardship from COVD-19, including waived ATM fees, eliminated credit card late payment fees and 90-day mortgage forbearance.
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