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COVID & Unemployment

What you need to know about Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

Mitchell Hartman, Kai Ryssdal, and Sean McHenry Oct 14, 2020
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People lining up to file unemployment claims in Calexico, California, in July. Mario Tama/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

What you need to know about Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

Mitchell Hartman, Kai Ryssdal, and Sean McHenry Oct 14, 2020
Heard on:
People lining up to file unemployment claims in Calexico, California, in July. Mario Tama/Getty Images
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The unemployment benefit system is complicated, even more so after the CARES Act set aside federal money to expand the system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s an acronym you might see more and more, if you’ve watching weekly jobless numbers: PEUC. But what exactly is PEUC? Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Marketplace labor correspondent Mitchell Hartman to get the essentials.

What is PEUC, and how is it different from other unemployment benefit programs?

So there’s regular state unemployment insurance. And that’s what you usually get. You’re laid off by your employer, it’s no fault of your own, you get on those benefits. Now, regular benefits usually run out after 26 weeks. But of course, this isn’t ‘usually,’ right? We have the pandemic. So Congress added PEUC. It stands for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and it lets people extend their time on unemployment. It adds 13 more weeks of unemployment checks after the 26 regular weeks run out, and that will run through the end of December. It is fully paid by the federal government.

Is the program working?

We’re up to about 2 million people right now who are getting the extension. That’s up from a million and a half at the end of August. But it doesn’t look like nearly as many people are getting on the 13 week extension as are running out of the regular 26 weeks of unemployment. Nationally, in the most recent week, about a million people stopped getting regular state unemployment, but only 150,000 got on the federal PEUC extensions.

Why aren’t there more people enrolled in PEUC?

We’re just running out of the 26 weeks [for ‘regular’ state unemployment], so this is all kind of new, and the states are scrambling. It seems like some states are doing pretty well. California and Massachusetts are making sure people know they’re about to run out, [and] it’s easy to get on the federal benefits. But there are other states where you may have to reapply [after initial benefits expire]. People are waiting weeks. And it does also seem like, at least initially, a lot of people are getting denied being put on the extension, which doesn’t seem to make sense because the requirements, the qualifications, are exactly the same as for the state benefits, and it’s paid for by the federal government.

What happens when the program expires at the end of the year?

After that, anybody’s guess. I mean, it’s all federal money under the CARES Act. All of this stuff is going to run out at the end of the year.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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