Stimulus update: Everything to know about the bipartisan $300 unemployment benefit plan

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The more than 19 million Americans still receiving some form of unemployment insurance could soon catch a break: Congress is finally nearing a deal on a second massive stimulus package.

The breakthrough came after a bipartisan group of senators put forward a $908 billion stimulus package last week. That aid package, which includes $180 billion for a $300 weekly enhanced unemployment benefit, was surprisingly endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who had previously been pushing for a much larger $2.2 trillion package.

While the package would still need a sign-off from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, it’s gaining traction among fiscally conservative Republicans—an indication that a deal is nearing. Both sides are under increased pressure to compromise, as the economic recovery continues to slow.

Here’s everything to know about the $300 enhanced unemployment benefit proposed by the bipartisan group of senators.

How would the additional weekly $300 unemployment benefit work?

The stimulus bill passed in March provided an additional $600 weekly in unemployment insurance benefits to everyone who qualified for a state’s program. But those enhanced payments ran out in late July. After the $600 benefit expired, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum in August to send a $300 enhanced unemployment benefit out to those receiving at least $100 per week in state unemployment benefits. However, in most states, that money ran out months ago.

The $300 enhanced unemployment proposal from the bipartisan senate group appears to be more like the $600 weekly payment from the CARES Act. Meaning it would go out to everyone who qualifies for a state unemployment program or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)—regardless of state benefit levels.

If passed, that means once you have been approved by your state for unemployment insurance, you would automatically get the additional $300 weekly federal money. All you would have to do is continue to certify your benefits weekly with your state.

Who would be eligible for the $300 pandemic unemployment benefit?

The CARES Act passed in March expanded who is eligible for unemployment benefits to include jobless part-timers, self-employed workers, freelancers, and independent contractors. These unemployed Americans covered through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, along with anyone on traditional state unemployment rolls, would automatically get the new federal benefits.

And everyone who qualifies would get an additional $300 weekly, regardless of their previous wages. This is on top of their state unemployment insurance benefit. For example, a worker in New York who gets the maximum state benefit of $504 per week would receive a total of $804 per week.

When would the $300 checks start going out?

Under the bipartisan proposal, the $300 checks would be issued starting the week of Jan. 1. The program would run for 16 weeks, according to reporting by the Washington Post.

Can my unemployment benefits be greater than my income?

The additional weekly $300 in unemployment benefits appears to be available to anyone who qualifies for UI, regardless of income level. That works out to $7.50 per hour on a 40-hour workweek. When combined with state benefits, some low-earning Americans could see a pay jump. However, this would be true for only a very small number of recipients; the added benefit wouldn’t have the impact of the $600 enhanced payment, which gave the majority of unemployed Americans a raise.

If I apply via my state, will I automatically get the $300 federal benefits as part of the stimulus?

Yes. If this proposal is like the CARES Act payment, then once you’ve been approved by your state for unemployment insurance, you’ll automatically get the additional weekly federal money. All you have to do is to continue to certify your benefits weekly with your state.

Will PUA and PEUC get extended?

The bipartisan bill would also extend benefit dates for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). It’s not yet clear how far into 2021 the programs would go. PUA expands who is eligible for unemployment benefits (for instance, gig workers and self-employed Americans), while PEUC grants 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits to qualified individuals.

That’s welcome news for the millions of Americans benefiting from these programs, which are set to expire at the end of 2020.

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