The coronavirus pandemic has led to mass layoffs across the country as businesses close or dramatically reduce their operations. While the first round of unemployment claims occurred during the initial shutdowns in March and April, Americans have continued to apply for unemployment benefits throughout the summer and into the fall as they are laid off from their jobs.
If you recently lost your job because of the pandemic, you may be eligible for unemployment and other benefits that can help to make the financial strain of unemployment a little more bearable. You should also be sure to take stock of your finances
How to file for unemployment
While the process for filing and certifying for unemployment varies from state to state, there are a few common steps you’ll have to take.
First, gather your documents
Before filing for unemployment, it’s a good idea to gather any important documents and information you may need, including your social security number, bank information, employer information, and the first and last day you worked for your employer before getting laid off.
Next, file online with your state
You should file for unemployment online through your state’s unemployment office as soon as you lose your job. Things work a little differently than they used to, what with everything moving online, but if you contact your state’s office, they can easily walk you through the process.
Depending on what unemployment benefits you’re eligible for, you might also qualify for an additional weekly $300 unemployment benefit on top of your regular unemployment payment. Again, make sure you check with your state, as some states do not offer the additional $300.
If you’re an independent contractor or self-employed, you may still be eligible to receive unemployment under the CARES Act if your business has been impacted by the pandemic.
Steps to take after you file for unemployment
If you lose your job, these strategies will help you to manage your financial situation and access key benefits.
1. Review your finances
The first step you should take after losing your job is to take a deep breath. Next, as unpleasant as it sounds, is to review your finances. This includes your emergency fund and personal savings, any debt you have, and any additional sources of income from unemployment benefits, investments, or side hustles.
This will give you a clear-eyed picture of where you stand financially and can help you to make informed financial decisions going forward.
2. Create a budget
After you review your finances, you should create a budget for your new financial situation. It’s a good idea to start by making a list of all of your absolutely necessary monthly expenses, including rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, and insurance. If possible, try to look for areas where you could cut back on your spending or eliminate certain categories.
If you need help with your budget (let’s face it, we all do at one time or another), you can always turn to budget apps. MoneyPatrol is a great option. It’s a very advanced money management tool that can help you keep track of every aspect of your budget.
3. Access benefits
In addition to unemployment benefits, there are a variety of other benefits and resources available to you when you become unemployed. You should try to access as many of these as possible in order to stretch your budget and take advantage of programs designed to help you. These include:
- Self Employment Assistance for individuals looking to start their own business after becoming unemployed.
- U.S. Department of Labor employment or training programs.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for current or expecting parents.
- SNAP benefits.
- Food banks like Feeding America and No Kid Hungry.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
- The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
- State resources for housing, food, and legal assistance.
- Local and community services.
- Other government benefits.
4. Review your insurance coverage
If you’ve recently lost your job, you may have lost your health insurance along with it. Health insurance coverage is still overwhelmingly tied to employment in the United States, and over three million people have lost coverage as a result of the pandemic so far. If you’ve lost your health insurance after becoming unemployed, you may be able to get coverage through the following options:
- See if you qualify for COBRA. If your employer employed at least 20 people, they may be required to offer you continued health insurance through COBRA. However, COBRA is more expensive, since you’ll be paying the entire monthly premium yourself.
- Consider switching to a spouse’s plan. If your spouse currently has health insurance from an employer, you may be able to switch to their plan.
- See if you qualify for Medicaid. You may be able to qualify for Medicaid if you lose your job. Requirements vary by state and depend on your income, household size, and other factors.
- Consider applying for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. If you don’t qualify for Medicaid, you may still be able to secure coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Losing your employer-provided coverage counts as a qualifying life event, and you may be able to access income-based subsidies to reduce your monthly premium.
If you’re looking to replace your insurance in these areas, tools like Policygenius can help you to compare and purchase insurance coverage online. Replacing employer-sponsored insurance policies like life or dental insurance may be lower on the to-do list than replacing health coverage, but it’s still important. Policygenius can help you compare affordable options in minutes to ensure that you’re getting the best deal possible.
5. Contact your creditors
If you’re having trouble paying your bills after becoming unemployed, you should get in touch with your creditors to see if you can pause your payments or get on a payment plan that fits your budget.
Many creditors are waiving late fees and interest in response to the pandemic and may be able to work with you to find a workable repayment strategy. Some utility companies are pausing shutoffs during the pandemic. Federal student loan payments and interest have also been paused until the end of 2020.
6. Consider part-time work
While you’re looking for full-time employment, it might not be a bad idea to also consider temporary part-time work. Working part-time can help you to bring in a little extra income each month, and make the search for a full-time position less stressful.
Part-time remote work options include freelancing, tutoring, and customer service – just to name a few. Just be sure to consider how working part-time will affect your unemployment benefits.
7. Take care of yourself
Becoming unemployed can be a big blow to your mental health, especially if you enjoyed your job. In addition to the many financial worries that come with unemployment, you may also feel embarrassed or ashamed at being out of work.
It can also be hard to cultivate healthy habits if you’re used to a fixed schedule. Here are a few things you can do to take care of yourself while you’re unemployed:
- Establish a routine. If you’re used to waking up with an alarm every day and commuting into an office, the sudden lack of routine can be disorienting when you’re unemployed. While your new routine might look substantially different than your old schedule, it’s still a good idea to get into a rhythm to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, and engaging in healthy activities.
- Don’t be afraid to rest. While you might feel like you’re being lazy or wasting time, resting is essential. Being unemployed can be incredibly stressful, and you need time to mentally and physically recuperate. Try to set aside at least two consecutive days to rest and recharge each week, and don’t be afraid to take breaks and spend time doing things that make you happy in addition to job hunting and dealing with the logistics of being unemployed.
- Spend time on old hobbies (or find new ones). It can be tempting to doomscroll and browse job boards 24/7, but that’s not the healthiest way to spend your time if you’re unemployed, and it probably won’t help you find a new job any faster. If you find yourself struggling to fill the hours, consider diving back into old hobbies that you didn’t have time for when you worked full-time. If no fun hobbies come to mind, feel free to try a new one! Planting a garden, baking bread from scratch, learning how to knit or how to code – there are plenty of options to choose from.
- Exercise if you can. A little exercise can have a powerful effect on your mental wellbeing and can be a great way to boost your mental health if you’re feeling stressed and anxious. Even something small and simple like a walk around the block or some YouTube yoga routines can help.
- Ask for help. If you find yourself struggling to make ends meet or keep your spirits up, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You might be surprised at how many friends, family, and community members are happy to lend a hand.
- Stay positive. Losing your job can be really demoralizing, especially if your career is closely tied to your self-worth. It’s important to remember that your job doesn’t define you, and you’re not at fault for becoming unemployed – especially during a history-making event like a global pandemic. Try to stay positive, make the most of the situation, and know that you’re not alone.
Unemployment can be difficult at the best of times but comes with unique challenges during an unprecedented pandemic. If you find yourself out of work, you should be sure to review your finances, budget your spending, and take advantage of any benefits and resources that you’re entitled to.