How To Get the New $300 Federal Unemployment Supplement — And Other Essential Benefits

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The COVID-19 epidemic has taken a booming U.S. economy and ground it to a halt. Within just two weeks of the initial outbreak, 10 million Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment, dwarfing prior records and pulling the U.S. toward recession. Nearly six months later, at least 14 million Americans still remain out of work.

The $2 trillion CARES Act was passed in late March to provide relief to these struggling Americans. However, since its $600 weekly bump in unemployment pay ran dry on July 31, those without jobs may be fighting to make ends meet. The good news is, a memorandum signed by President Donald Trump could increase unemployment compensation by $300 per week in some states.

Here’s a list of already-existing benefits that may help you if you find yourself unemployed, in addition to pandemic-related benefits that haven’t gone away yet.

Last updated: Sept. 3, 2020

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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; however, the CARES Act provided additional federal benefits of up to $600 per week through July 31, and also provided for an additional 13 weeks of unemployment payments beyond the regular state expiration.

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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.

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2. The $300 ‘Trump Boost’ to Unemployment

Although the $600 weekly bump to unemployment checks is a thing of the past, a new provision may grant unemployed Americans an extra $300 instead.

As a part of the Lost Wages Assistance program passed on Aug. 8, the Trump administration is granting a $300 boost to weekly unemployment payments. However, this piece of executive action comes with a major caveat: You already have to be earning $100 a week in benefits to get it.

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How To Qualify For the ‘Trump Boost’

Because unemployment insurance works differently in every state, you don’t have a lot of control over whether you qualify for the $300 boost. To be eligible to receive that extra money, you already need to be pulling in at least $100 weekly on unemployment. Depending on where you live and how much money you made while you were working… well, it just might not be in the cards for you.

Labor economist Eliza Forsythe estimates that around 6% of people on unemployment collect less than $100 per week. That leaves about 835,000 out of 14 million people who can’t collect on the $300 boost.

On the bright side, some states are taking action to prevent this. In New Hampshire and Rhode Island, for example, officials are temporarily increasing weekly unemployment pay so that residents will qualify for the boost in benefits.

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3. 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.

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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.

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4. Medicaid

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.

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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.

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5. 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.

Helpful: 22 Tips for Landing a Job During the Health Crisis

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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.

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6. 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.

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How To Qualify For Subsidized Housing During This Crisis

If the apartment you live in is backed by a federal mortgage, you couldn’t be evicted for failure to pay rent. There was a 120-day moratorium that started on March 27, so you were safe from eviction until late July. During this time, you could not be charged late fees or penalties if you aren’t paying your rent.

Some states, such as California, have extended the ban on evictions. California has extended it to February 2021. Be sure to check what the rules are in your state.

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7. 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.

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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.

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8. 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.

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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.

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9. 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.

Check Out: These 27 Places Are Still Hiring During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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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.

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10. 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.

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How To Qualify For Student Loan Assistance During This Crisis

After CARES legislation was passed, student loan borrowers automatically received a much-needed perk. Under the act, all student loan payments were automatically stopped from March 13 through Sept. 30. The interest rate was set at 0% over the same time period, even for loans currently in default.

In August, the White House saw fit to extend this student loan payment relief through Dec. 31.

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11. 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.

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How To Qualify For SBA Assistance During This Crisis

The CARES Act directed a major portion of its economic strength directly at small businesses. For starters, business owners could apply for a quick $10,000 cash infusion with an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance. They could also apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was an expanded version of the traditional SBA 7(a) loan program. Under the PPP, many received a two-year loan at an interest rate of 1% that has the possibility to be forgiven if they keep their employees on the payroll for eight weeks and use the funds for payroll, mortgage interest, utilities or rent.

Unfortunately, the PPP ended on Aug. 8, so struggling business owners will have to find other avenues to save their companies. EIDL Advances also are no longer available. However, traditional EIDL loan applications are still being processed by the SBA.

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12. 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.

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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 jobs 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.

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13. 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.

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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, unveiled a Client Assistance Program in which customers can submit an online request for deferrals on credit card, vehicle or home loan payments. Check with your bank to see if any similar assistance is being offered.

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Levi Leidy contributed to the reporting for this article.