What to Do When Your Unemployment Benefits Run Out

How to Get Help When You're Out of Unemployment

Parents and children all working from home
••• Justin Paget / Getty Images

What can you do if your unemployment benefits run out, or you're about to lose them and you still don't have a job? Try not to panic, there are resources available to help.

Unemployment benefits are intended as a temporary measure to help you financially when you are between jobs. Generally, unemployment benefits last 26 weeks. However, that time can vary between 20 and 30 weeks, depending on your state.

Expanded unemployment benefits are available for laid-off workers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Eligible workers will receive supplemental payments and extra weeks of unemployment compensation.

In times of high unemployment, the federal and state governments may extend unemployment benefits. In New York State, for example, unemployed workers are currently eligible for up to 53 weeks of Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, depending on when they filed their claim, eligibility for benefits, and the state unemployment rate.

However, there are limits to how many weeks are available. That means there's a chance your benefits might run out before you secure new employment.

What should you do if you are worried about your unemployment benefits running out? There are steps you can take to protect your finances, even when you are unemployed.

Check on Extended Benefits

First, check with your state unemployment office to ensure you are receiving all the benefits you qualify for. During a recession, the federal government may provide funds allowing the states to expand unemployment benefits.

The U.S. Department of Labor provides a website to help you locate your state's unemployment insurance office.

CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act Extended Benefits

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allowed states to extend unemployment by 13 weeks for workers who’ve exhausted standard unemployment benefits.

These benefits were further extended by the American Rescue Plan Act, signed in 2021, which provided:

  • Up to 73 weeks of Pandemic Unemployment Benefits, through September 6, 2021
  • Up to 53 weeks of Emergency Unemployment Compensation
  • An additional $300 in weekly benefits through September 6, 2021

Some states chose to opt-out of federal unemployment benefits earlier than Sept. 6. Check with your state's unemployment office to learn whether or not your state ended these benefits early.

Federal Extended Benefits

An additional 13 to 20 weeks of federal Extended Benefits (EB) are currently available in most states, due to the high unemployment rate. In most cases, these extended benefits will be paid automatically, and you shouldn't need to refile to continue claiming benefits.

It's a good idea, however, to check with your state's department of labor for details on your eligibility and how the process works. In some cases, you may need to file additional paperwork to ensure that you receive all your benefits.

Not everyone who is eligible for regular benefits will also be eligible for extended benefits. Your state's program will be able to tell you which program you qualify for.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Economy Recovery portal has information on filing for unemployment in your state, plus resources for housing, food, finances, healthcare, and more.

Create an Action Plan

If you are close to losing your unemployment benefits, you need to create an action plan to fall back on.

The best time to trim expenses and find resources is while you still qualify for unemployment. Make a plan now, and you can save yourself additional stress later.

The longer you’re unemployed, the more challenging it can be to get your finances in order and find work, but there are resources available to help long-term unemployed workers.

Tighten Your Budget Before Unemployment Runs Out

As soon as you lose your job, it's wise to create a new, bare-bones budget. It should cut out discretionary spending, such as:

  • Services like cable TV or a gym membership
  • Non-essential groceries
  • Entertainment expenses
  • Eating out
  • Optional home or clothing purchases
  • Vacations and travel

You'll still need to make your savings, emergency fund, and other money last as long as possible, in case your benefits end before you find another job, and you need to dip into your savings or emergency fund.

Check out some of the best ways to supplement or replace your compensation when you’re unemployed and short on money to pay the bills, and how the income will impact your unemployment benefits.

Contact Your Creditors

If you are unable to make your monthly payments, contact your creditors. Many of them may be willing to help you create a payment plan so you aren't responsible for as many bills at once.

If you have student loans, they can be put in deferment or forbearance if you are unemployed. Do this as soon as you lose your job. 

While your creditors may be able to report you to collections when you fail to pay, you may find additional help or assistance while you are unemployed, if you contact them. If you are proactive, you may be able to save your credit while you deal with unemployment.

Get Help Looking for a Job

It is easy to become discouraged in a difficult job market. One way to shorten your search time is to broaden your horizons.

Consider expanding the field you are looking in, as well as the geographic location. You may be able to find a great job in a different state or city.

If you're a college graduate, check with your career services office. Many schools provide career counseling and job-search assistance to alumni.

If you are getting to the interview stage, but you are not receiving any offers, you need to get help with your interviewing techniques. Look for help with this through your local unemployment office. It can still offer you help with looking for a job even if you do not qualify for weekly benefits. It is important to continue to be proactive until you find a job.

Take on Part-Time, Temporary, or Gig Work

Consider picking up part-time or temporary work to help you out while you are continuing to search for a full-time job. That will help you earn an income as well as avoid gaps on your resume.

You may begin freelancing in your field and discover that you can make a lot of money doing that. Just be sure to plan for taxes come next year, as you'll be responsible for paying them on your earnings.

You may also find that you can pick up odd jobs to help supplement your income. Once your unemployment benefits have run out, you may have to take on a part-time job indefinitely in order to meet your financial obligations.

Investigate Social Services Programs

There are emergency programs in place to help you cover the costs of food and rent through each county. If your unemployment runs out, you will likely qualify for food stamps. You may also want to look into local food pantries in your community that can help you.

You may qualify for child care assistance as well as help with rent or utilities while you are looking for a job. You do not know what you will qualify for until you apply, and it is worth the time to contact your local office to find out what help you can get while looking for work or training for a new job. 

Where to Find Free Financial Assistance and Support

Try these steps to boost your job search and find financial assistance during unemployment.

  • Secure a free email account: Job seekers can create a professional email, separate from their personal email, to use just for job searching.
  • Check with your internet and cell service provider: You may be able to hold off on all or some of your payments while you're unemployed.
  • Ask your church and local community organizations for support: If you are a member of a church, ask whether any help is available. Community organizations often have resources to help the unemployed with food baskets, donations, job help, and babysitting assistance.
  • Seek help from your network: If you can get support from family or friends, don't hesitate to ask.
  • Consider loans for unemployed workers: You may be able to borrow money even though you are not employed. Find information on the types of loans available for unemployed workers, how to qualify for a loan, and options for borrowing money when you are out of work.
  • Obtain free job search help: Identify and find free, or inexpensive, job search and career resources in your geographic area.
  • Use your local Career OneStop Center: Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Career OneStop centers have information on local support resources. These include help with utility bills, food costs, and other necessary expenses. Career OneStop might also have information on temporary positions, permanent or long-term job listings, and assistance with job or skill training to increase your marketability.
  • Review job search tips for unemployed job seekers: It's difficult to be upbeat and confident when you're in a desperate financial situation, but it's important for an unemployed job seeker to remain positive.

Check With Nonprofit Agencies

Need further assistance? Here’s a list of local, state, and federal resources that can connect you with nonprofit agencies near you.

  • 2-1-1 Call Center: Call to find local assistance with training, employment, food pantries, affordable housing, and support groups.
  • Directory of Homeless Shelters: Find a listing of homeless shelters throughout the United States from the National Coalition for the Homeless.
  • Low-Cost Phone Service: Reduced-cost phone service is available to eligible low-income families through the Lifeline program. Qualifying applicants can receive voice and data packages for less than $15 per month.
  • Help With Pets: If you are having difficulty caring for your pets, there is help available. Check with your local animal shelter and veterinarian to see whether they can assist or refer you to sources for pet food and care.
  • Home Affordable Modification Program (AMP): This program, along with others, allows qualifying unemployed homeowners to reduce mortgage payments so they can focus on finding a job without the pressure of foreclosure.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Each state has a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, formerly called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). TANF can help with food stamps, financial assistance, training, and job searching.
  • Food Stamps: The federal food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), helps low-income families and individuals buy food.
  • Medicaid: Medicaid provides medical benefits to low-income people who have no (or inadequate) medical insurance.
  • WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food and nutritional support for low-income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum, and for children under age 5. Check with your local health department, clinic, or other authorized agency for WIC information.