$300 weekly unemployment bonus checks for 4 more months? What you should know

December 15, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


More weekly unemployment relief might be coming soon.

Angela Lang/CNET

Congressional Democrats and Republicans revealed their two COVID-19 relief bills Monday that equal $908 billion if both pass. The larger, $748 billion package sets aside 16 weeks of unemployment assistance and $300 weekly bonus checks. The second bill contains $160 billion for state and local government aid and a liability shield for businesses, which, respectively, represent contentious dealbreakers to each party

“We’ve had a Christmas miracle occur in Washington,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine and one of the members of the bipartisan group presenting the bill on Monday. “My hope is that our hard work will spur our leadership on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and in the House and in the administration to take our products and use them as a basis for a COVID relief package that is urgently needed. Depending on the course of this pandemic, we may have to do more. But surely we can come together and provide this relief before we break for the Christmas holiday.”

Not included in either bill was a second stimulus check, even though there is strong support for it. The White House proposed the inclusion of a $600 stimulus check, although it would provide one month of unemployment assistance. 

Here’s where the situation with weekly federal unemployment insurance stands now. This story is updated frequently with new information.

Read moreCoronavirus unemployment: Who is covered, how to apply and how much it pays

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What happens if the bill passes with more unemployment aid?

For millions of unemployed workers, Dec. 26 is the last check they’ll receive as benefits created by the CARES Act in March are set to expire on Dec. 31. If the $748 billion bill passes Congress and becomes law, the new unemployment checks would make their way out, but there is no indication that they will be retroactively applied. 

That means that job seekers who receive the new unemployment check won’t get a larger sum for their first disbursement, and wouldn’t have a financial safety net until their first check arrived.

What happens to enhanced unemployment benefits on Dec. 31?

According to a Dec. 3 report by the New York Times, without a new stimulus bill to extend the programs established by the CARES Act:

  • 7 million gig workers and contractors will lose benefits 
  • 5 million people who lost their jobs will run out of unemployment checks 
  • Several million Americans will face evictions 
  • Approximately 21 million people will need to start making student loan payments 
  • 125,000 companies will lose tax incentives to not lay off workers
  • $150 billion of aid to state and local government will expire 

With Congress in a lame-duck session until President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, President Donald Trump would need to sign off on any relief package that comes through the House and Senate. Right now, that’s the only way to extend the enhanced unemployment benefits before they expire on Dec. 31


Tens of millions of Americans face dire financial straits.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Which other benefits end without another stimulus bill?

Unemployed workers received a bonus of $600 a week, along with an extended period to collect benefits as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March with support from Democrats and Republicans. When the bonus expired in July, Trump signed an executive memo in favor of continuing a reduced amount of the extra weekly funds, on top of the typical unemployment benefits. 

Those funds are known as Lost Wage Assistance, or LWA, and the intent was for the aid to last for six weeks, providing an extra $300 a week to unemployed workers (plus $100 from states) while Congress continued negotiations over a new economic relief package. States have already depleted their resources. The proposed and revised Heroes Act from Oct. 1 would bump the weekly bonus back up to the original $600 for four months. 

The CARES Act established multiple programs, with an expiration date of Dec. 31. In addition to the larger checks described above, the rescue bill also extended unemployment benefits for new claimants to 39 weeks instead of the typical 26 weeks established by the states. Those extra weeks will disappear except in states that already established a longer period of time through 2021. 

Another program set to expire on Dec. 31 is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Self-employed workers contractors and gig workers normally don’t receive unemployment benefits, but PUA allows them to receive weekly funds similar to other unemployed workers.

What happened to the $300 extra weekly checks from summer?

Trump’s executive memo signed on Aug. 8 reinstated a bonus weekly check of $300 referred to as Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) funded by the federal government through FEMA. The order also called for an additional $100 provided by the states, to make a total of $400 in enhanced unemployment pay, though that’s since been made optional.

States began sending the $300 checks in mid-August, with some sending them out over six weeks while others provided lump sums to equate the $1,800 total. As of December, all states have exhausted their allotted LWA funding. 

Why were unemployment benefits enhanced anyway?

Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March to help Americans and US businesses after cities began locking down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Included in the package was additional unemployment aid for people who lost their jobs because of COVID-19. 

Since shelter-in-place rules were put in place, tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs and have received the extra federal unemployment aid. With states providing between $235 and $1,220 per week in assistance, the additional $600 per week has been a major component of many people’s financial survival. 

Who qualified for enhanced unemployment benefits? 

If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, you’re eligible to apply for unemployment benefits from the state where you live. Once the state approves your claim, you’re eligible to receive whatever state benefits you’re entitled to. Because states cover 30% to 50% of a person’s wages — some states provide more, while others offer less — the extra $600 from the federal government was originally added on to help fill the gap. 

How did the CARES Act support people who were laid off or furloughed? 

Each state has its own criteria for who is eligible to receive unemployment and what those benefits entail. This includes how much money you’re eligible to receive, which is usually based on your income, and how long you’re eligible to receive it, which is usually based on how long you held your most recent job. The CARES Act provided a booster fund — adding up to $600 extra per week — while also extending states’ unemployment benefits to a maximum of 39 weeks instead of the typical 26 weeks. 


For millions of Americans, time is running out.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Who wasn’t eligible for the extra unemployment money?

There will be some people receiving unemployment payments who won’t be able to take advantage of additional funding. The US Department of Labor on Aug. 11 sent out guidance about the eligibility requirements for the LWA. Claimants would have to be eligible for a minimum $100 from a state’s unemployment benefits program to qualify for the additional $300 in federal funds. This would disqualify 1 million people, according to the New York Times

How are unemployment benefits calculated?

The state determines how much each applicant receives, usually based on an individual’s gross income. It varies from state to state, but is typically between $300 and $600. 

How can I find out if I qualify for unemployment insurance?

Eligibility criteria vary from state to state, but the general rule is that you should apply if you’ve lost your job or been furloughed through no fault of your own. This would include a job lost directly or indirectly because of the pandemic. 

How are different states handling the unemployment benefits?

Again, the benefit duration and amount vary. Most states provide up to 26 weeks of funding, though others, such as Georgia, limited benefits to 12 weeks. On the other hand, Delaware extended benefits for up to 30 weeks. The weekly benefit amount depends on an applicant’s gross income when they were employed and ranges between $300 and $600, with some exceptions. Mississippi had paid up to $235, while Massachusetts’ maximum has been $1,220.

Where can I get more details about my state’s policy?

Each state’s labor office provides information about its particular unemployment benefits.

How did the CARES Act help people who are self-employed? 

The CARES Act also created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to individuals who would not normally be eligible for unemployment benefits from the states, such as gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors and small business owners whose income has been affected by the pandemic. Under the CARES Act, PUA funding will be available until Dec. 31.

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