You sent us your money questions, and we asked Michelle Singletary, The Post’s award-winning personal finance columnist, to share answers. Below you’ll find the final in a five-part series of Q&As.
Q: I had to quit my job earlier in the pandemic to take care of family, so I couldn’t get unemployment benefits. Now I’m struggling to find a new job. Are there any resources available to help me support myself and my children until I find something?
A: This has been an extremely tough time for so many people who have lost their jobs or have reduced hours because of the pandemic.
And many, like you, have had to quit to care for their children, parents or other relatives, some suffering from covid-19.
Each state unemployment program determines which workers are eligible for benefits. Generally, you cannot collect unemployment if you quit your job. The compensation is intended to help people who have lost employment through no fault of their own.
However, benefit payments can be paid if you quit under certain circumstances depending on your state's laws. There are exceptions if you quit for “good cause,” such as an unsafe work environment.
You should apply for your state’s unemployment benefit if you haven’t already. Depending on your personal circumstances you may be eligible, according to the Labor Department.
It all depends on how your state is implementing rules under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that was signed into law last year. Certain provisions of the Cares Act pertaining to unemployment benefits were extended under new measures passed at the end of last year.
For instance, under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), states can provide benefits to individuals who are self-employed, seeking part-time employment or otherwise would not typically qualify for unemployment compensation. This includes people unable or unavailable to work because of certain health or economic consequences of the pandemic.
You may qualify if you are the primary caregiver of a child who is at home due to a forced school closure that directly results from the coronavirus public health emergency, the Labor Department says.
“However, to qualify as a primary caregiver, your provision of care to the child must require such ongoing and constant attention that it is not possible for you to perform your customary work functions at home,” the department said in a FAQ explaining how unemployment works. “For example, if your employer allows you to telework and you are caring for a more mature child who is able to care for him or herself for much of the day, you likely would not qualify for PUA because you are still able to work.”
President Biden has also issued an executive order asking government agencies to do what they can to increase efforts to “ensure that unemployed Americans no longer have to choose between paying their bills and keeping themselves and their families safe from covid-19 by clarifying that workers who refuse unsafe working conditions can still receive unemployment insurance.”
The point is don’t give up just yet. Apply or reapply and see what happens. Even if you are denied, follow the appeals process.
For other aid, consider these government programs:
You may qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides money to low-income families.
In addition to exploring government program eligibility, ask for help from friends and relatives. This may be hard for you, but let folks know you need assistance. You may be surprised how many want to do something to help. They may not ask because they don’t want to offend you.
I don’t recommend you ask for a loan. Borrowing between friends and family can get complicated and ruin relationships. However, see who might be able to help with your next utility bill or perhaps assist you in buying groceries. Often people are waiting for you to reach out (and if you see someone struggling, don’t wait for them to ask for your assistance).
There are subsidized housing and housing vouchers for low-income families. You can find more information on the website for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The second stimulus package also included $25 billion in emergency rental assistance. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, assists households that are unable to pay rent and utilities due to the pandemic. States are handling the funds through existing or newly created rental assistance programs. Eligible households may receive up to 12 months of assistance, plus an additional three months if it’s determined the extra months are needed to ensure housing stability, according to the Treasury Department.
Look into the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to help pay your heating and cooling bills.
Check to see if you’re eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
As a result of the pandemic, Biden has told the Agriculture Department to consider expanding and extending federal nutrition assistance programs.
There’s also no shame in seeking help from area food banks. Feeding America, a leading hunger-relief organization, has a search function on its homepage to find local food banks. You simply enter your Zip code.
You may qualify for Medicaid, which provides health benefits to needy families and was expanded under the Affordable Care Act, which is also known as Obamacare.
There’s also the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which assists families who earn too much for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance.
Under the ACA, you may qualify for subsidies to help afford health insurance. Click here to see if you qualify for financial assistance. The open enrollment period has ended but Biden has authorized a special enrollment period because of the pandemic. The new window to sign up is from Feb. 15 to May 15. Go to HealthCare.gov, which is the online health insurance exchange.
I’ve provided a lot of links here and it can be overwhelming.
Just so you know, I’ve known hunger myself as a child. After my parents abandoned me and my four siblings, we were was placed in the care of my grandmother, who never earned much money as a nursing assistant at a hospital in Baltimore. Although my grandmother, who raised us all until adulthood, was a great money manager, money was tight. So, I understand how scary it can be trying to keep a roof over your head and food on the table.
But, never let pride get in the way of asking for help or researching your options to provide for your family.