The stimulus package passed and I’m still unemployed (wtf)

Yesterday President Obama signed the new $787 billion stimulus package into law. And much to my chagrin, I’m still sitting at my desk unemployed. I thought for sure that the sky would rain $100 bills, all my school loans would be forgiven and the president himself would come by to give me the deed on a Manhattan brownstone. I even made tea and cookies shaped like little dollar signs in anticipation of his visit. But he never came, and I finally just ate the cookies myself. Oh yeah, and except for the signing, none of that other stuff happened either. So, Mr. President, this stimulus thing better work, because you’re skating on thin ice. And the Jobless and Less endorsement in 2012 will carry with it at least one vote, which could turn the state of New York rosy red.

The stimulus package – the biggest since World War II –  is a mix of tax cuts and public spending programs. And us unemployed get a little help in the deal. Here are the highlights…

  • Weekly unemployment benefits will temporarily increase by $25.
  • Recipients of unemployment benefits will not owe federal income taxes on the first $2,400 received in 2009.
  • Unemployment benefits will be extended by 20 weeks, and an additional 13 weeks in high unemployment states.
  • The government will cover 65% of the total cost of COBRA premiums for the first nine months.

Let’s break this down a little further, because really, what else do we have to do? A $25 weekly increase in unemployment benefits is pretty significant for the average joes among us. It’s $100 more per month for as long as it lasts – not enough to cover a mortgage payment, but enough to buy some groceries. So when Honey Bunches of Oats goes on sale (usually 2 for $5), I can buy 40 boxes. Each box is good for two meals, for a grand total of 80 meals – 10 short of a whole month’s worth. (A box would go further if I didn’t eat like I have a tapeworm.) All that’s really left to buy is milk. Manhattanites can probably get a day-old sandwich with their extra $100, and a handful of organic sugar packets if the cashier isn’t looking.

Federal income tax forgiveness will save those receiving the highest level of unemployment $60 per week. Six weeks of checks adds up to the $2400 limit, and yields a total tax savings of about $360. That savings can be enjoyed now or later, depending on how you set up your account. If taxes are taken out of each check, the savings will show up in your 2009 tax return. If taxes aren’t taken out, then the savings will be immediate. Either way, $360 buys a lot more Honey Bunches of Oats – 144 boxes to be exact. That may be too much cereal even for me. I suggest allocating this extra money to video games and DVDs. Three PS3 games and ten months of Netflix should take care of it.

The extension of benefits is a little confusing. Everyone take a deep breath before we start so your head doesn’t explode. Okay, here we go. New York unemployment insurance usually lasts for 26 weeks. Those benefits were extended by 13 weeks in July of 2008 and again by seven weeks in November of 2008, for a total of 46 weeks. From what I’ve read, the stimulus package further extends benefits by 20 weeks, plus 13 weeks in high unemployment states like New York (thank you, upstanding corporate citizens of Wall Street). But the New York State Department of Labor site and phone line only mention the original 13 and seven-week extensions and the pending 13-week emergency extension. So the new 20-week extension seems to just be the original 20-week extension (13 plus 7). That’s a total of 59 weeks of unemployment by my tally – plenty of time to dream up all sorts of great things to do if you had any money. Many of us won’t see any more money if they don’t push back the expiration date – currently August 31, 2009. Presently, only those laid off before Fall 2008 and still unemployed can take advantage.

COBRA is an act that allows employees to continue health insurance coverage after leaving employment. My individual coverage under COBRA cost me about $430 per month in past stints of unemployment. Family coverage costs two or three times that. The supplementary COBRA payments included in this package will save a lot of unemployed people a lot of money and incite many more to retain health insurance. Government COBRA payments covering 65% of the premiums will result in a savings of $280 per month for individuals (about $2500 total) and much more for families. It will also save those who would have otherwise gone without insurance from financial ruin should major health issues arise. This may be the most important aspect of the package, as far as the unemployed go.

Aside from the benefits specifically aimed at the unemployed, the package will create an estimated 215,000 jobs in New York. That number won’t be reached for years, well after our unemployment benefits run out. We’ll all need jobs way before then. For now, enjoy this little helping hand from Mr. Obama and all of his friends in Congress. Now let’s see what they can do about the banks and the housing market, both way bigger problems. Solving those would put many of us back to work and a lot more money in our pockets.

Please visit the Forums section of Jobless and Less for further discussion of unemployment-related topics.
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4 Comments

  1. Lori wrote:

    does anyone know if the third tier of unemployment for texas has been confirmed- i know the second tier is in effect but i haven’t heard anything about the 3rd tier…????

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  2. Susan ATwood wrote:

    I have a question for you. I was laid off in Mid-August 2009. My benefit year is through August 2010. My 25 weeks of benefits will end at the end on February 2010. I called the Virginia Employment Commisssion (VEC) myself because my balance is $732.00 and was getting low. I asked the lady about the EUC and what should I do to apply. She told me that President Obama put the deadline as of February 21,2010 to end the EUC benefits. Since I will not have a -0- balance at that time I will not be accepted for the emergency benefits. I was very upset and disappointed in this discovering. I asked her how would I know that, she said it was on the news. I watch the news every day, I never heard anything about the EUC benenits deadline, and futhermore why should I get that information about my benefits from the news. She told me that no notices are sent to the claimants. I told her there is nothing on the VEC website about the deadline. I have been looking for a job every day, sending resumes, speaking to employers, going to interviews. Nothing has develop any further at this point. Is there anything that I can do so I get these Emergency benefits. My finance’s hours were cut at his job and these funds and helping us get by with food, utililty bills and basic needs. I hope to find a job soon. Please any advice will help

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  3. Elizabeth wrote:

    Ms. Atwood, I hope you have recieved some information regarding your situation, I am sure it is frustrating for you every day.
    The website NELP.com has information regarding the deadlines and when Congress will extend the programs. The hope is that they will extend them before the deadline, maybe as quickly as Monday the 21st.
    Because you are in Virginia I am not familiar with the way they do things–but if the deadlines are extended you should receive a letter.
    Hope you have a super day, and remember to keep the faith!

    Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  4. Justellingthetruth wrote:

    You people out there saying that Republicans or Tea Parties are responsible for your demise- Guess again- It’s our NON-president that is in office! Once his sorry 4 year term is up, the better off the US, the economy, and our well being will be.

    Monday, March 1, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Permalink