Millions of people are still out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But many state governors believe extra unemployment benefits deserve at least part of the blame.
As of May 26, at least 23 governors have said they plan to withdraw early from the $300 weekly federal benefit provided under the American Rescue Plan that’s scheduled to end Sept. 6.
If your state is among the 23 states ending unemployment early, don’t wait to take action. Extra benefits will end as early as June 12 in some states. Here are eight steps to take before your benefits expire.
8 Things to Do if Your State Is Ending Unemployment Early
Even if your benefits are safe for now, start making a plan ASAP. Other states could follow suit, and regardless, September will be here before you know it.
1. Make a Bare-Bones Budget
A bare-bones budget includes only your basic necessities: housing and utilities, food, health care and minimum debt payments. Make a bare-bones budget and start living on it now, so that you can sock away any extra money you’re getting now to help cover expenses once your federal benefits end.
2. Look for a Job in an Industry That Hires Fast
If you’re still searching for employment, consider a bridge job. Basically, it’s any job that helps you pay the bills, even if it’s not your ideal job. Because many businesses are having trouble recruiting employees right now, you may be able to negotiate better wages than you could in pre-pandemic days in fields that don’t traditionally pay well.
For example, these 160,000 restaurant jobs pay over $10 an hour. Across the country, employers in food service, retail and hospitality are holding job fairs, with many hiring on the spot. Also check out The Penny Hoarder’s work-from-home jobs portal, which regularly features remote entry-level listings.
3. Take up a Side Hustle
Your goal here is to find any way to start generating income before your benefits end. There are plenty of easy side hustles you can take on now with little upfront cost to start earning extra cash. Some ideas include:
- Drive for Uber or Lyft. Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft have a driver shortage, making it possible for drivers to earn $25 an hour or more in some markets.
- Do odd jobs on TaskRabbit. Use the app to connect with people near you who need help with tasks like furniture assembly, cleaning and painting.
- Deliver groceries through apps like Instacart or Shipt.
- Babysitting. Find gigs through sites like Care.com and SitterCity.
- Pet sitting and house-sitting. As people resume travel, they’ll need services like pet care and house-sitting that weren’t in high demand last year.
4. Search for Rental Assistance
Congress has allocated nearly $47 billion to help distressed renters, but getting a piece of that money is maddeningly complex. As Vox reported, more than 340 agencies are administering that aid, each with their own set of rules.
One good resource for navigating this process is the 211 helpline, which is operated by the United Way. You simply dial 211, and you’ll be connected with someone who knows about resources in your community. Because of the lengthy process involved, it’s essential that you take this step ASAP.
5. Get Food Assistance
The 211 hotline can also connect you with food pantries near you. If you can get help from a food bank and reduce your grocery bill now, try to put any extra money into emergency savings.
Also visit benefits.gov to determine whether you’re eligible for SNAP benefits. It can take up to 30 days to receive benefits through the regular application process, but you may qualify for expedited benefits, depending on your state.
6. Contact Your Unemployment Office
You may still be eligible for your state’s unemployment benefits, but the rules will vary by state. Most states have a limit on how long you can receive benefits. Some states are also ending federal programs that extend benefits for workers who would have otherwise exhausted benefits on top of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for gig workers who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for benefits.
As difficult as dealing with your state’s unemployment office can be, it’s essential that you contact them immediately to find out whether you’ll qualify for state assistance. In some cases, you may need to submit a new application or apply for an extension.
7. Ask Your Creditors for Forbearance
Though banks aren’t widely advertising forbearance programs the way they were a year ago, contact your lenders to see if skipping or pushing back payments is an option. The best time to do this is always before you’ve missed a payment.
Be sure to ask how they’ll report your payment status to the credit bureaus. If they’ll be reporting your payments as delinquent, your credit score will plummet.
If you have federal student loans, take advantage of the automatic forbearance that’s in effect through at least Sept. 30. You can ask for a refund of any payments you’ve made since March 2020.
8. Don’t Pay Debt if You’re Putting Your Health or Housing at Risk
In a true emergency, you may have to decide which bills to pay. If your unemployment benefits end early before you’ve found a job, you may find yourself in this situation.
Try to work with your lenders. But focus on paying rent and utilities, keeping food on the table or getting medications you need before you make payments on credit cards or loans.
Yes, you’ll damage your credit score if you miss payments without your lender’s permission. But you can recover from bad credit. While your credit score is important, your health and housing are far bigger priorities.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]