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Money Fix: Time is running out on $600 bonus unemployment checks from feds

The federal government's $600 weekly unemployment relief checks

The federal government's $600 weekly unemployment relief checks will come to an end July 31. Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / courtneyk

Time is running out on the federal government’s $600 weekly unemployment relief.   Come July 31, the money that has been a lifeline for more than 45 million people who filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic will disappear, unless Congress acts.

Although no one knows what legislators will do, they are likely to do something.

“Congress has to act, they can’t walk away with so many people’s lives in a precarious situation,” says Michael Graetz, author of "The Wolf at The Door: The Menace of Economic Insecurity and How to Fight It."

He suspects that another round of $1,200 stimulus checks might be on the horizon. What’s less certain, he says, is whether the $600 unemployment bonus will be extended. It’s hotly debated in Congress.

“The concerns that Republicans have that those checks will incentivize people not to go back to work are overblown,” says Graetz. That thinking could mean the bonus money, if continued, would be at a lower amount, if at all. Congress might give employers tax credits or loan forgiveness to keep the workforce in place.

“American families were in a precarious financial situation before the pandemic and even more so now. If the wolf was at the door, now the wolf is in the house,” says Graetz.

However, while the bonus money ends, the CARES Act extends eligibility for federal unemployment to 39 weeks total. Individuals are eligible through regular unemployment insurance (UI) through their state, (the maximum in New York is $504), 26 weeks and then an additional 13 weeks of federally funded Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance (PEUC). “PEUC is usually the same amount as regular UI benefits through the state. Individuals file for PEUC through their state unemployment website,” explains Kelly Anne Smith, a personal finance analyst with ForbesAdvisor.com.

For states that continue to have high unemployment rates, there will be Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) available for a period up to 39 weeks total, meaning someone who received regular UI and PEUC benefits that in total are fewer than 39 weeks, PUA will kick in to cover remaining weeks, she adds. Under current law, PEUC or PUA will not be paid after Dec. 31.

Truth is, you don’t want to depend on the government. What can you do now in anticipation that perhaps nothing further happens? Here are a few strategies for swimming in uncharted waters.

Take action

“If you’re furloughed, contact your employer to find out when you might be able to return. Look for other options right now to bring in funds, even if it’s a part-time opportunity or one outside your field, for the additional income,” says Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney with the Tayne Law Group in Melville.

Your credit is good, but you have high-interest debt, “Look into a balance transfer credit card (although banks are now reducing available options.) Those that qualify can reduce the number of bills coming in and accumulating interest charges that can quickly add up month-to-month,” says Tayne.

If you haven’t already, get in touch with utility companies and creditors to explain your financial hardship and inquire about additional discounts or forbearance periods. From banks to cellphone providers, many companies have COVID-19 relief programs that can help you during this time. Think about speaking with a debt help professional to help further reduce your financial obligations.

Other government assistance programs can supplement the gap created by the loss of benefits, such as SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and HEAP. Long Island residents can call 211, 888-774-7633, or visit 211longisland.org to access United Way’s 24/7 information helpline that provides referrals for those still in need.

Explore coronavirus hardship loans being offered by community banks and credit unions. Says Smith, “These loans have low interest rates and generous repayment period terms.”

Says Tayne, “The most critical mistake to make right now is waiting until benefits expire to ask for help. Researching and applying for resources now can save you the stress and financial headaches from delaying.”

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