The CARES Act's big unemployment benefit

How the stimulus plan asks a $600 question

Apr 09, 2020 | Editorial | Politics | Jobs | The economy
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What's the quickest way to make $600?

Start out with $2.2 trillion. That's the size of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act President Trump signed into law on March 27th.

In this bill, aside from our $1200 checks, was a provision for the millions of newly unemployed and furloughed workers: an increase of the maximum allowable unemployment benefit.

Never content to settle for a single lengthy acronym, the official name for these extra benefits is Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC).

What are unemployment benefits?

If you've never filed before, they are a weekly amount of money provided to you by the state for a set number of weeks, meant to tide you over while you search for another job.

The amount you received tends to be tied to your income, but the rules on how that benefit is calculated vary state-by-state, as do the maximum number of weeks you can receive benefits.

In California, for example, the most a person can receive in benefits (pre-CARES Act) is $450/week for a maximum of 26 weeks. In Florida, however, benefits max out at $275/week for up to 12 weeks.

Why is this increase such a big deal?

This may be the $600 dollar question. Unemployed workers are now entitled to an additional $600 per week, on top of their original unemployment benefit.

But wait, there's more: benefits have been extended an additional 13 weeks, meaning unemployed workers could receive their new, bigger checks for an additional 3 months.

That same California max now tops out to $1050/week for 39 weeks, or nearly ten months!

Can I quit my job, file for unemployment... and get paid more?

The short answer: no. Unemployment isn't available to employees who willfully terminate themselves without just cause (think sexual harassment, discrimination, unsafe conditions).

Additionally, there's no guarantee you'll receive the max, or that your period of benefits will last as long. And as a condition of collecting unemployment, you must be looking for work (and accept a job if you land it).

And money received from the state (assuming you currently have a job) is money that could've gone to a needy person who was laid off. It's a better safety net, but one you don't want to use.



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