Why the holdup in unemployment benefits?
Though Biden signed his $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package into law on March 11, the Labor Department said in a memo released March 22 that the additional unemployment funds wouldn't be accessible until at least mid-April in some states.
The Democrats who control Congress rushed the bill through as a way of getting money to the unemployed as soon after March 14 as possible; besides $1,400 stimulus checks, other aid in the legislation included an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits through Sept. 6.
But passing a bill and implementing it are often two different matters, especially when it comes to something like unemployment, where both state and federal governments are involved. And, not every state offers the same level of support for the unemployed or the same technical infrastructure to deliver the cash.
"Acknowledging that states need time to modify their computer systems to accommodate the extensions and modifications provided under (the relief law), the Department expects many states will need until the middle of April or later to implement the new provisions and begin notifying individuals," the Labor Department’s Suzan LeVine writes in the memo.
About 2 million Americans are now facing a lapse in benefits, according to Century Foundation unemployment benefits expert Andrew Stettner, in interviews with multiple media outlets.
How Americans are reacting
If the delay in extended unemployment benefits has you worried or confused, you have plenty of company. News of the lag has triggered a flurry of anxious reactions on Twitter.
“I certify Monday I’m praying extra $300 for unemployment is there…" writes user MsDarseJackson.
“I did not receive the $300.00 today, just my unemployment. Will it be posted today or is there a problem?" says GERBERSUNDAY, in a tweet that received five quick replies from other Twitter users also expressing worry about their missing deposits.
“I did not receive the extra $300 unemployment today. The bill said it was extended until Sept. 6," writes lizabeckerman. "Please help."
Bridging the unemployment benefits gap
There’s little you can do to speed up the delivery of the federal government’s extended unemployment benefits. There are, however, a few steps you can take to help make ends meet between now and when your weekly $300 starts trickling in.
If you've been relying on your credit cards to get by during the pandemic, the interest charges may be making the debt overwhelming. A remedy is sweep your balances into a single, lower-interest debt consolidation loan to help you get the debt under control and pay it off more quickly.
You might easily be overpaying for your insurance policies. Do some comparison shopping to see if you can get a better deal on car insurance, or save hundreds of dollars a year on homeowners insurance.
Take advantage of technology to stretch your budget. When you shop for groceries, use an app that gives you cash back simply for taking a photo of your receipt. Or, you can download a free browser extension that will scour the internet whenever you shop online and find the best prices on the items you need — while you wait for your federal unemployment money and continue looking for that next job.