In the last month, 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus. Here in Vermont, unemployment has jumped from 2.2 percent to an effective unemployment rate of over 20 percent, with more than 80,000 claims to date for unemployment insurance due to COVID-19.
The economy is slowly restarting, as certain industries are reopening with social distancing parameters in place, but many Vermonters remain unemployed or worried about job security.
If you or someone you know is out of work, here are eight things you can do to survive being laid off (or furloughed).
1. Apply for unemployment
This is the first and most critical step you should take after being laid off. It allows you to maintain an income stream, even if it’s less than the paycheck you’re used to and can literally buy you time to find employment.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—the $2 trillion relief package that included the Economic Impact Payments—has expanded unemployment benefits. The federal government is providing an additional $600 per week in unemployment payments, through July 31, and extending state unemployment insurance by 13 weeks.
Gig workers, freelancers, and the self-employed are now also eligible for unemployment benefits through the CARES Act. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program provides benefits to those who previously did not qualify for regular unemployment insurance. Further details are available by calling the PUA hotline at (877) 660-7782.
To establish your initial unemployment claim, complete the electronic form on the Vermont Department of Labor website. This is also true if you’re self-employed, as you must first submit a claim for general unemployment insurance to determine your eligibility to complete a PUA application. Regardless of how you qualify, it’s imperative that you file a weekly claim to continue receiving your benefits.
For additional information, visit the COVID-19 Recovery Resource Center for individuals.
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2. Examine your finances
With an income that is now diminished, uncertain, or on pause, it’s important to assess your current financial situation and determine how to make the most of your money.
Are there nonessential expenses you can cut out temporarily, like the gym membership you can’t use anyway? How can you make the most of your stimulus payment? How long will your emergency fund last, if you have one? Can you delay certain payments in order to cover the essentials?
Examine your budget and recalculate your spending and saving practices to fit your new financial reality.
3. Negotiate your bills
You never want to miss a payment. But what if you can’t make your next payment, or aren’t sure how long you can keep up with your bills?
With so many people experiencing financial uncertainty and hardship, many lenders are willing to discuss alternative arrangements. Contact your lender, even as a precaution, to discuss your finances and options moving forward. Oftentimes you can negotiate deferrals or other terms that will accommodate a sudden change in income.
This could include rent, credit card bills, mortgage payments, or student loans. In fact, repayment on certain government-held student loans has been suspended through September 30, and interest has been waived until further notice.
However, it’s important that you do your homework. Find out about any potential fees or accruing interest. Ask if delayed payments will be reported and reflected in your credit score. Research whether different policy changes apply to you.
4. Look for immediate, additional income sources
Unemployment insurance only lasts for up to 39 weeks under the CARES Act, and sometimes may not cover your financial needs long-term. There are a couple of options for temporary but immediate infusions to your income stream.
First, what essential businesses might be hiring? Maybe you can’t become a doctor in a day, but the medical industry may have hiring needs in other areas. Perhaps a restaurant expanding its new takeout service needs a delivery driver. Grocery stores or cleaning services could potentially use extra help. Look online for possible part-time, contract, or remote work. It almost goes without saying, but make sure any new work situation is safe for your health and well-being, first and foremost.
Another option could be a short-term loan to cover your immediate needs. With so many people facing financial difficulties, many financial institutions are lending a hand by offering favorable, low-interest terms on loans.
5. Update your resume and job skills
Looking more long-term (if you’re able), the combination of unemployment, physical distancing, and stay-at-home orders provide an opportunity to build your skills and your resume.
Online learning has never been more appropriate. Several platforms and many colleges and universities offer free courses for nearly any skill or topic you can imagine.
And let’s be honest—if you had time to watch Tiger King, you probably have time to perfect your resume.
Whether you’re hoping to change careers or angling for expanded responsibility, preparing for your next job is one way to make the most of the situation.
6. Take care of your health care
If you’ve been furloughed, you have the benefit of maintaining your benefits from your employer. If you’ve been laid off, you have two options to ensure you have continued healthcare during unemployment.
If you had healthcare through your employer, you have the option of keeping your same health insurance through COBRA. While it does allow you to continue the same plan, you are now responsible for paying for it.
If that proves too expensive for your newly-examined budget, you may be able to find a more affordable alternative through the Affordable Care Act. Depending on your new income level, you may find that you qualify for subsidies or Medicaid when you sign up. To enroll, visit the Vermont Health Connect website.
7. Practice self-care
The COVID-19 crisis is stressful already; suddenly being unemployed doesn’t help. As long as your unemployment to-do list is, there’s one critical item that needs to be on it: daily self-care.
Unemployment and job hunting can be all-consuming. To reduce stress and preserve your mental and physical health, take breaks during and at the end of the day to turn off the job search and just take care of yourself.
Exercise regularly. Eat well (healthfully, mindfully). Meditate, if that’s your thing. Take a bubble bath. Watch your favorite movie. And most importantly…
8. Lean on your community
Losing your job can be an incredibly isolating experience. Even though we’re all practicing social distancing—or perhaps because of it—it’s more important than ever to reach out and ask for help.
Schedule regular Zoom dates with family and friends. Have your neighbors bring you dinner. Participate in community gatherings (virtually!), like your church or town hall. See what resources your local food bank or non-profit organizations have to offer; they are here to support us all in times of need.
Let others be there for you so that, when the time comes, you can be there for others.
Together, we will get through this.
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