Expanded Unemployment Benefits And $400 Weekly Unemployment Payments May Be Coming In March

The House of Representatives voted early Saturday to approve President Joseph Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, with Democrats almost unanimously united in support for the massive relief plan that’s aimed at stabilizing the economy, offering relief to the unemployed and expanding coronavirus vaccine distribution and testing. No Republicans voted for it; but as Democrats hold the majority, the legislation passed nonetheless.

The stimulus relief package now goes to the Senate. If it’s approved, the bill would extend federal unemployment benefits, as well as providing additional relief to those who have lost work or seen their income decrease as a result of the pandemic. Here’s what to expect.

Millions could see unemployment benefits increased and extended under the stimulus package making … [+]

If the bill is enacted, it would extend two key pandemic unemployment programs through August 29: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs.

The bill would also increase the supplemental federal weekly jobless benefits to $400 a week, and extend those payments until August 29. (The stimulus package passed in December included $300 weekly bonus unemployment checks through March 14, though there is an extension to April 5 for some who exhausted their state’s unemployment benefits before the expiration date.)

Legislation is expected to narrowly pass in the Senate, along party lines. Democrats have narrow majorities in both the House and the Senate and decided to try to pass Biden’s stimulus plan via a process known as budget reconciliation. That allows lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation with a simple majority of just 51 votes, though it limits what can be included in the bill to items that affect spending, revenues, and the federal deficit. (Democrats and Republicans each hold 50 seats in the Senate, but Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote.)

Senators will likely pass a slightly different version of the bill they received, though, given opposition to some provisions in the bill—notably, a proposed minimum wage increase that the Senate parliamentarian ruled could not be included under the rules of the budget reconciliation process. But the unemployment relief outlined in the House version of the bill is expected to remain as is.

The House will then have to pass the Senate’s version or the two chambers will have to meet to draft a final piece of legislation in a conference committee that both houses of Congress can agree on.

If the bill isn’t passed by mid-March, 11.4 million people are expected to start losing jobless benefits that begin expiring then, according to estimates from The Century Foundation. (The PEUC and PUA programs would phase out completely in April.)

But despite the expected modifications to the legislation, Democrats remain optimistic that they can get the final bill onto President Biden’s desk by March 14. That’s when provisions in the $900 billion relief package passed in December—including federal unemployment benefits through the PUA and PEUC programs, as well as the $300 bonus weekly unemployment payments—begin running out.

“We will meet this deadline,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) wrote to colleagues last week.

Those getting the $300 supplemental weekly unemployment benefits under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program would see those unemployment checks increase to $400 a week under the new legislation.

All Americans collecting regular unemployment benefits should also be eligible for those supplemental payments. Anyone who receives at least $1 in unemployment aid qualifies.

The CARES Act passed last year created the PEUC program, which can provide up to 24 weeks of additional benefits to those who’ve been affected by the pandemic and exhausted their state’s regular benefits.

If the stimulus bill is signed into law with the current unemployment relief provisions intact, the PEUC program will be extended up to 48 weeks.

Those extended PEUC benefits may then be followed by additional weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits in states with high unemployment (up to 13 or 20 weeks, depending on state laws). Fourteen states, as well as Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, were providing additional extended benefits as of this week, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (You can see the full list on its site.)

The CARES Act also created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which was designed to provide benefits to freelancers, gig workers, and others who are working on contract and have lost income as a result of the pandemic. This week, the Labor Department issued new guidance expanding eligibility to collect benefits under the program to also include:

The bill passed by the House would lengthen the duration of the PUA program to up to 74 weeks—nearly a year and a half—from the current 50 weeks. That means someone who began collecting unemployment benefits through the PUA program last spring, and continues to qualify, could continue to do so until the program expires at the end of August.

If the stimulus bill is signed into law before mid-March with the current unemployment relief provisions intact, the millions of Americans who are eligible to collect either PUA or PEUC payments should simply continue to receive those benefits.

Policymakers have stressed, though, that if the bill isn’t passed quickly by Congress, it might result in some interruptions and delays as states work to set up the additional distributions.

I’m a personal finance expert and longtime financial journalist who’s written for publications like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Worth, Money and