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$300 bonus unemployment checks: How long will they last? What you should know

It's a short time before another stimulus package will be needed to extend the bonus payments.

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More federal unemployment checks are still coming. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus plan will be introduced into Congress next week, and it will increase the weekly bonus unemployment checks to $400 until the end of September. His "American Rescue Plan" will also include a third stimulus check for $1,400, a longer eviction ban and more money for distributing the COVID-19 vaccines

Until Biden's stimulus plan is passed, unemployed workers will continue receiving $300 each week until March 14 as laid out in a $900 billion relief package passed back in December. These are benefits first established under the CARES Act, which was initially signed last March in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday's report from the Department of Labor showed that 847,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week, which is a drop of 67,000 from the previous week. 

We're here to answer as many questions as we can, given the current information available, including whether the weekly unemployment bonus includes retroactive payments, and who meets the eligibility requirements. 

When will there be another COVID-19 stimulus package?

That's a good question. The chatter in Washington has suggested that a final bill could come together in late February or in March. So far, the White House has made it clear it will not split the package into smaller bills such as one for a the third stimulus check 

"I just want to take the opportunity to be crystal clear: We're not looking to split the package. That is not a proposal from the White House," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference Thursday. "That is not where our focus is or where our intention is."

According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Biden's stimulus plan will be introduced into the House in the first week of February. The Senate, on the other hand, is likely to continue confirming hearings for Biden's cabinet and then begin its impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump the week of Feb. 8. Those two major events put a question mark over the passage of the next package.

How long will the $300 extra unemployment payments last?

The December stimulus package adds 11 weeks of unemployment with an expiration date of March 14. There's an overflow period that lasts until April 5 for those who exhausted their state's benefits before the expiration date. 

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Which states have yet to send $300 bonus checks?

As of Jan. 29, 49 states already started processing the supplemental unemployment payments. Unemployed workers in Arkansas will have to wait until early February to see their extra checks, due to issues with the state's unemployment system, according to the Arkansas Times on Jan. 18. 

Though almost every state is sending the $300 bonus payments, not everyone who qualifies has received them. California, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Virginia continue to have issues that'll delay payments to some unemployed workers for weeks. 

Are the $300 bonus payments retroactive?

Though the language of the stimulus bill doesn't specify whether the unemployment bonus is retroactive, that doesn't appear to be the case, The Washington Post reported. Observers don't expect that we'll see a federally instituted lump sum payment to make up for previous weeks of not receiving a $300 check.

What is Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation and how do I qualify?

The original CARES Act had unemployed workers either get their benefits from the state through unemployment insurance or through a federal program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA. Someone who was self-employed or who worked as a gig worker, freelancer or contractor who doesn't typically receive unemployment benefits after being laid off could receive PUA instead. 

In the language of the new bill, however, someone who earned a combination of income from a traditional job and employment as a contractor would either receive the unemployment insurance payment or the PUA, but not a combination of both. 

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With Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation, a person who made more money from self-employment or a contracting job -- that requires a 1099 form -- could receive an extra $100 a week. For example, let's say you made $50,000 in 2019, which was split with $30,000 coming from a contractor job and $20,000 from a part-time job at a company. If you were laid off, the state unemployment office would calculate whether you'd receive benefits for the $30,000 via PUA or $20,000 via unemployment insurance but not a combination of the two. 

Though someone who works a traditional job and makes $50,000 a year in New York would receive $480 a week from unemployment insurance, by having a mix of the two, you'd get the greater of the two different amounts, which would be the PUA of $288 a week rather than the $280 from unemployment. 

Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation will now give that person an extra $100, but only if the state participates. It may be some time before states will determine whether they will or not after the bill gets passed. 

What are the $300 bonus weekly checks' qualifications? 

If you've been laid off or furloughed, you're qualified to apply for unemployment benefits from the state where you live. Once the state approves your claim, you can apply to receive whatever state benefits you're entitled to. Because states cover 30% to 50% of a person's wages, there's no single sum you could expect on a national basis.  

When the CARES Act passed in March, it provided unemployed workers with a weekly bonus check of $600 on top of the amount the state was offering, but those payments ended in July. Trump's executive memo signed on Aug. 8 reinstated a bonus weekly check for a reduced $300 funded by the federal government through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These were offered for only six weeks to states that applied (which means all except South Dakota). Those receiving PUA would also receive the $300 bonus. 

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The clock is ticking on the current round of unemployment checks. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Do I qualify for the additional federal unemployment insurance?

Eligibility criteria vary from state to state, but the general rule is that you should apply if you've lost your job or been furloughed through no fault of your own. This would include a job lost directly or indirectly because of the coronavirus pandemic

How does my state calculate unemployment benefit amounts?

The state determines how much each applicant receives, usually based on an individual's gross income. It varies from state to state, but is typically between $300 and $600. 

How do states handle unemployment payments?

Most states provide up to 26 weeks of funding, though others, such as Georgia, limited benefits to 12 weeks. On the other hand, Delaware extended benefits for up to 30 weeks. 

The weekly benefit amount depends on an applicant's gross income when employed and ranges between $300 and $600, with some exceptions. Mississippi had paid up to $235, while Massachusetts' maximum has been $1,220. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation from the CARES Act added an additional 13 weeks funded by the federal government, but another stimulus bill with unemployment insurance would need to pass in order to extend it further. The latest COVID-19 relief package would add another 11 weeks of PEUC. 

How can I see my state's unemployment insurance policy?

Each state's labor office provides information about its particular unemployment benefits.

If you're interested in stimulus checks, here's what we know so far about the bid for a $2,000 per person stimulus payment and what's been said so far about a third stimulus check in 2021