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  • Writer's pictureIndrani Stangl, M.A.

COVID-19 and Unemployment

The federal government recently passed the biggest stimulus package in history. If you lost your job because of the pandemic, or if you have suffered decreased wages, please keep reading.

Updates to unemployment:

There have been dramatic expansions to who is eligible for unemployment benefits. The maximum benefit was increased by $600 per week if you meet certain criteria. Even if you are a ‘gig’ worker (doing on-demand work like Uber or DoorDash, or if you work as a free-lancer or contractor) you are now able to file for unemployment! Each state has their own unemployment website, and a slightly different process. In California, there is a claim form which is normally followed by an orientation and follow-up training. (These group orientation and training sessions have been canceled for now.) Finally, in order to receive payment, there is a bi-weekly on-line form to verify that you are actively looking for work. This is a quick process, but it is important to meet your deadlines in order to receive timely payments.

You can sign up for either a VISA debit card or physical checks. If you choose the debit card there is an online system to check the status of deposits and the card balance.

With nearly 10 million people applying for benefits, you may need some patience to get through this process. But it’s your money, and you should take advantage of it.

Small Businesses:

Small businesses that have been deemed 'unessential' have been forced to close, and the future is dim for many. If you find yourself struggling to manage your small business during these uncertain times, be sure to check the U.S. Small Business Association website. There are several new programs that you may tap into as a stopgap including grants and loans with little to no interest.

Mortgages and other loans:

Mortgage companies are now required to allow borrowers to delay payments during the pandemic. If you have lost your job and you are worried about making payments on your home or auto, call your lender. The payments will not be forgiven, but you may be able to defer them for the time being. The best option for some is to tack those deferred payments to the end of your loan term. For example, if you defer three months of payments, your loan duration would increase by three months. This article goes into more detail about mortgage payments during the coronavirus.

If you rent, you may be able to work out an agreement with your landlord. Since mortgage payments are being deferred, your landlord may have some cushion to allow for you to delay your rent. In addition, many states have banned evictions, and some are even offering financial relief to those that cannot afford their rent due to layoffs.

Your Budget:

The stimulus package includes a $1200 check to individuals who meet certain criteria, which are described here.

When you had a regular income, it was easy to set up automatic payments for products and services, and then forget about them. This is a good time to comb through your bank statements and review some of these items. You may find several that you can live without, like streaming services, music and software that you barely use.

Managing Your Anxiety:

The world is a strange place now; we are experiencing a ‘new normal’ that most of us don’t know how to navigate. Things we usually take for granted are things we now worry about. Things as mundane as toilet paper and going to the grocery store can cause our heads to spin. In cognitive behavioral psychology, a common exercise to manage negative thoughts and feelings is to:

1) Assess the negative thoughts you are having. For example, “The world will never be the same.”

2) Assign a feeling to the thought. For example, fear.

3) Take an action to refute the thought and replace the feeling with something positive. For example, take your dog on a walk. Feel the ground under your feet, breathe in the fresh air. Notice the flowers and the feeling of the warm sun on your cheeks. See other people outside and say hello. (Make sure to keep an adequate distance.) Discover that in actuality, much of the world is the same.

4) Taking the action of walking your dogs helped you alleviate your fear and thoughts of doom.

Jerry Jellison, USC Professor of Psychology, recommends that we flip this model upside down in times of inordinate stress. Right now, it may be too overwhelming to examine your negative thoughts and feelings. Instead, take action first. Take that dog walk and be in the moment. Do it every day, and those negative thoughts and feelings will begin to diminish.

Stay safe and healthy, and let me know if I can do anything to help

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