These COVID-19 relief benefits cut out Dec. 31 without another stimulus bill


COVID-19 relief programs are about to get cut. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The year will end soon, but the global pandemic continues, and many could soon find themselves in dire straits financially. Tens of millions will be left without any income after programs created back in March by the CARES Act expire on Dec. 31 — unless Congress authorizes more stimulus aid before then. 

On Dec. 1, a bipartisan group of Congressional lawmakers announced a $908 billion relief package proposal that would extend enhanced unemployment benefit for four additional months. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly dismissed the plan the same day, saying he wouldn’t entertain it and instead proposing a “targeted relief package” that contained far less help for unemployed workers, but by Dec. 3 he was talking about compromise. 

A group of senators led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed their own bill called the American Worker Holiday Relief Act, which extends enhanced unemployment benefits until October 2021.  

The Democrats consider the $908 billion bipartisan bill the first step to economic recovery — it’s backed by Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President-elect Joe Biden. 

“That would be a good start. It’s not enough,” Biden told CNN Thursday. “What’s immediately needed is relief for people in their unemployment checks, relief for people who are going to get thrown out of their apartments after Christmas because they can’t afford to pay the rent anymore, relief on mortgage payments. Relief on all the things that are in the original bill the House passed.”

Without that stimulus relief, the following programs will disappear on Jan. 1, 2021. 

Read more: Here’s who wants to give you a second stimulus check today

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


$300 extra weekly unemployment check

The average weekly unemployment benefit doesn’t always equal a worker’s earnings and typically ranges between $300 and $600. To help fill the gap, the CARES Act added a weekly unemployment benefit bonus of $600. When that bonus expired on July 31, President Donald Trump signed an executive memo paving the way for a smaller $300 weekly bonus (for a six-week period) with the expectation Congress would soon pass another relief package. That hasn’t happened, and most states have exhausted the six weeks of extra funding. The $300 bonus provision is set to end on Dec. 27, according to the president’s memo, and is expected to sunset unused.

More months of unemployment benefits

Individual states handle unemployment insurance claims, determining if a person is eligible, how much they receive and for how long they can collect. Though it varies from state to state, the CARES Act extended the duration of benefits from 26 weeks to 39 weeks. Starting on Jan. 1, those additional 13 weeks provided by the federal government are gone. 

Some states have already backfilled the void on their own, including increasing their benefit period up to 59 weeks, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Others, including Alabama, Arkansas and Utah, haven’t taken action on it, which could leave unemployed workers in those states without assistance as the new year begins.

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


Can Congress piece these programs back together before more damage is done? It’s a waiting game.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Money for freelancers, contractors and gig workers

Another initiative of the CARES Act, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, also known as PUA, provided economic relief to those who wouldn’t typically qualify for unemployment: self-employed workers, contractors and gig workers. The PUA is set to end Dec. 31. If the federal government doesn’t extend it, it will be up to the states to determine whether they will step in on Jan. 1.

Eviction protection for renters

The CARES Act provided limited protection on evictions by only focusing on homes backed with a federal mortgage loan or households that received some type of federal funding. The protections were then expanded in September by the Centers for Disease Control, which called for a halt on evictions for failure to pay rent. This order by the agency covered more households, including renters in 43 million households, but it also has an expiration date of Dec. 31.

Student loan deferment

Students who are paying off federal student loans also received a reprieve under the CARES Act, which gave them the option to defer their loan payments (and which paused the accrual of interest) until the end of September 2020. In August, Trump extended the deferment until Dec. 31. On Jan. 1, loan servicers will once again be able to charge interest on these loans and students may have to resume paying them off unless the servicers offer deferment options. 

For more information, here’s the latest status of stimulus negotiations, and here’s everything we know about the next relief bill.

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