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Americans in at least 29 states started to receive the extra $600 in unemployment benefits this week as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause massive job losses in the country.
In the weeks since President Trump signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act into law, more states, including New York, New Jersey, California and Missouri, have updated the information technology they rely upon for unemployment payments.
"We know that a number of states have now significantly increased staffing at their unemployment insurance offices," Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia told reporters on Wednesday. "We are seeing signs that states are getting past the operational problems that some experienced with the initial large increase in filings."
For those who haven’t started to receive the extra cash yet, payments will retroactive to as early as March 29. The extra funds will last through July 31.
In the four weeks through April 11, nearly 22 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits -- trouncing the level of jobless claims seen during the 2008 financial crisis. It’s a stunning sign of the depth of the economic damage inflicted by the outbreak. Estimates vary drastically for how high unemployment will eventually climb, but economists broadly agree that it will be grim.
At least 32 states will provide the expanded federal benefits by the end of this week, nearly a month after businesses deemed non-essential began shutting down across the country to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. California provided its first extra payment on Sunday.
Benefits vary by state, but the stimulus package increases unemployment assistance in every state by $600 a week for up to four months. For instance, the maximum weekly benefit check in New York is $504. That would increase the weekly limit to $1,100. The maximum weekly benefit check in Massachusetts is $823, while the maximum in Mississippi is just $235.
The stimulus plan also broadened who’s eligible to receive unemployment aid to include self-employed people, those seeking part-time employment and independent contractors. Generally, Americans who are self-employed, unable to work or do not have a recent earnings history are ineligible to receive the benefits. The program also tends to exclude people who were fired or quit their jobs without good cause.
To apply for benefits, contact your state’s unemployment office. You can typically file your claim online, via phone or in person.