Extra unemployment aid expires as virus threatens new states

As public health officials warned Friday that the coronavirus posed new risks to parts of the Midwest and South, enhanced federal payments that helped avert financial ruin for millions of unemployed Americans were set to expire — leaving threadbare safety nets offered by individual states to catch them.

Since early in the pandemic, the federal government has added $600 to the weekly unemployment checks that states send. That increase ends this week, and with Congress still haggling over next steps, most states will not be able to offer nearly as much.

In addition to the end of the $600 payments, federal protections against evictions also are set to expire.

Standard unemployment benefits often leave recipients with poverty-level incomes, but they are sure to continue, even as states wrestle with diminishing unemployment trust funds.

Every state offers assistance for at least some unemployed workers based on a portion of their previous earnings. The maximum amounts vary widely, from $235 a week in Mississippi to $1,234 in Massachusetts. Benefits are available for as few as six weeks in Georgia and up to 28 weeks in Montana. Most states normally cut people off after 26 weeks.

The potential loss of benefits comes at a time of increasing pessimism about job prospects. Nearly half of Americans whose families experienced a layoff during the pandemic now believe those jobs are lost forever, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Aside from the pandemic’s economic damage, the virus itself threatens to overwhelm parts of the country that have been relatively unscathed.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warned in a television interview that the surge of cases in the South and Southwest could make its way north.

“What started out very much as a Southern and Western epidemic is starting to move up the East Coast, into Tennessee, Arkansas, up into Missouri, up across Colorado,” Birx told NBC’s “Today” show. She implored people to wear masks, wash hands and keep at least 6 feet apart.

More: Extra unemployment aid expires as virus threatens new states