What the new $2.2 trillion stimulus bill means for unemployment benefits

People gather at the entrance of the Department of Labor offices in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on March 20; the offices had closed to the public due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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People gather at the entrance of the Department of Labor offices in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on March 20; the offices had closed to the public due to the coronavirus outbreak.
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Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The Senate passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill Wednesday evening to bolster the US economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposed relief package, which still needs to pass in the House of Representatives before being signed into law by President Donald Trump, includes about $500 billion in loans and other help to companies, up to $150 billion to state and local governments, $367 billion to small businesses, and $130 billion to hospitals and healthcare providers, according to The Washington Post. The last number grew from $100 billion in a draft of the bill seen by Business Insider

One of the bill’s core tenets is expanding unemployment benefits.

“Every American worker who is laid off will have their salary remunerated by the federal government so they can pay their bills,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

The US has already seen a record number of people applying for unemployment benefits as the pandemic results in mass layoffs. Nearly 3.3 million people filed for unemployment insurance for the week ending March 21, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That’s the largest number on record for a single week, far outstripping the record of almost 700,000 newly filed claims set in 1982 and exceeding Goldman Sachs’ estimate of 2.25 million.

Here’s how the proposed bill would affect unemployment insurance.

An extra $600 per week for up to 4 months, and provisions for self-employed and contract workers

The package would increase the amount each unemployment claimant receives each week by $600. In January, the average unemployment-insurance check was $385 per week, so an additional $600 is a huge jump.

Claimants will be eligible to receive these higher benefit amounts for up to four months.

The bill also includes a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides up to 39 weeks – or about five-and-a-half months – of unemployment benefits to those who typically aren’t eligible, including self-employed and contract workers, according to the American Action Forum.

The bill passed in the Senate on Wednesday evening, and it now needs to pass in the House of Representatives before being signed into law by President Donald Trump.

A worker looks out of a nearly empty restaurant in New Rochelle, New York, on March 11, 2020.

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A worker looks out of a nearly empty restaurant in New Rochelle, New York, on March 11, 2020.
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REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

The new coronavirus aid bill was not the first to address unemployment insurance in response to the pandemic. On March 18, Congress passed and Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expanded unemployment benefits and gave grants to states for processing and paying unemployment claims.

The federal government also previously issued guidance to states to allow more flexibility with granting unemployment benefits to employees who can’t go to work because their workplace was shut down, to workers who are quarantined, and to those who leave work due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

The novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 487,000 worldwide and killed more than 22,000, has also dealt a huge blow to the economy and will likely cause a global recession.