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Fertnig/ E+ via Getty Images
Fertnig/ E+ via Getty Images
The coronavirus outbreak and mandatory stay-at-home orders have led business owners nationwide to close shop with little idea of when eateries, salons and other establishments will open for business again. In the week ending April 4, the number of advance initial unemployment claims not adjusted for seasonal change reached 6.2 million in the U.S. The week prior, initial claims topped 5.8 million, making for a combined two-week total of over 12 million job losses. Being laid off can feel like tackling a financial beast. Know you are not alone. Here are tips to get you through the battle.
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Layoffs are emotionally traumatic under any circumstance, let alone a global pandemic. Emotional reactions may range from anxiety and fear to sadness and shame or anger and irritability. Physically, you may experience headaches, nausea or stomach pain too. To cope with the stress, write your feelings, indulge in an at-home activity you enjoy and exercise your body and mind with at-home workouts, stretches or mindfulness exercises.
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Secrets can do more harm than good. So reach out to friends, family or others you trust. Be open about your situation and accept support from those around you. Communicate clearly with your spouse or partner too. They likely have similar questions to your own. Together, tackle the subject with any children who may be affected by the layoff. Be honest about the new financial situation without causing any unnecessary fears. And remember to keep any “grown-up” conversations away from little ones.
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Once laid off from a position, speak to your human resource department about any financial resources. First, ask about severance pay. While there is no requirement for severance pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you and your employer may have agreed for payment upon termination of employment when you were hired. Secondly, ask when you can expect your final paycheck and when your health insurance and other benefits will be void.
Recent layoffs may have little to do with job performance, but keeping a record of past performance reviews could serve you well. Ask HR for copies of previous reviews, a letter of recommendation or “laid off” letter explaining any extraneous reasons (like a global health pandemic) that you have been let go. These documents can help you adjust your own workflow to boost productivity and beef up a resume too.
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Just as each state has its own weird laws, each state has its own stipulations on who qualifies for unemployment benefits. You will need to file for unemployment in the state you worked in. The U.S. Department of Labor offers an interactive Unemployment Benefits Finder. Select your state to find links to relevant requirements, applications and coronavirus-related updates.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the mass expansion of unemployment qualifications by the federal government. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, workers affected by coronavirus measures who were previously not covered may now be eligible for unemployment benefits. These include employees permanently or temporarily laid off, employees with reduced hours, self-employed people who have lost income and others. Additionally, new federal law increases the weekly benefit amount that states provide by $600 until July 31 and provides 13 additional weeks of benefits for people still unemployed after their state benefit period runs out.
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As part of a severance package, some employers may offer a care continuation of health insurance through COBRA. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) allows for temporary continuation of a group health plan coverage for certain employees, retirees and family members at group rates when coverage is lost due to a qualifying event.
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To check if you are eligible to enroll in other health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act, your state’s healthcare market or other federal programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, you can use Healthcare.gov’s screener.
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Under the CARES Act, you may withdraw up to $100,000 in coronavirus-related distributions from accounts in eligible retirement plans. These include IRAs, qualified pensions, 401(k) plans and more. Coronavirus-related grounds for withdrawal include adverse financial consequences such as being laid off, furloughed or working reduced hours. Required minimum distributions have been suspended and the 10% early withdrawal penalty generally applied to those under 59 and a half years old has also been waived for the whole of 2020.
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Now, time to consider your day-to-day, week-to-week finances. To deal with unexpected unemployment, put savings on hold, discontinue any non-essential recurring fees and create a new budget. Spend less money on unnecessary expenses and dip into your emergency fund if need be. Take steps to make the food in your fridge last a day or two longer and prove to yourself how little excess you need to still live a happy, healthy life at home.
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Many banks are offering coronavirus relief options for customers. Bank of America allows online requests for payment deferrals. Upon request and if eligible, Citi Bank customers can have minimum credit card payment requirements and late fees waived for two statement cycles and personal loan payments deferred too. Contact your bank to see what it offers and if you qualify for any financial relief.
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After a complete financial checkup, spend some of your new free time tidying up your resume. Use the performance reviews you gathered from HR and any additional letters of recommendation to bolster your CV. In a resume, be sure to use active language and call attention to all important achievements. Send your resume to a friend to review and proofread before flooding the job market with your one-page pitch.
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With the rest of your extra time, consider adopting a new hobby — better yet, one that can be translated to the workforce. Learn to code or better your organizational skills with home organization hacks. Or rather than learning a new hobby, why not perfect an old one? If you are the crafty type, turn your hobby into a small business.
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Essential businesses need more essential workers, so there are industries hiring during the coronavirus pandemic. Whether it's restocking shelves in a grocery store or remotely working to keep programs like Slack and Zoom functional, these jobs are necessary and contribute to society in a big way.
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Be patient on the path from unemployment to employment. Times are tough, no doubt about it, so take it easy on yourself and those around you. And do not forget to network. Contact and check in on former mentors and colleagues. Spread genuine care and contribute to the stories of unbelievable kindness during the coronavirus outbreak.
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