Dear Penny: How Do I Survive if $600 a Week Unemployment Expires?

Chairs in a restaurant are placed on top of the tables to represent the restaurant is closed.
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Dear Penny,

I lost my restaurant job due to shutdowns in the spring and started getting unemployment in April. I was happy to go back to work when the restaurant reopened in June, but just three weeks later, the restaurant closed again when Covid cases started rising. Now I’m back on unemployment.

I’m losing sleep at night worrying about what happens when the extra $600 a week expires at the end of July. How can those of us who are still out of work survive if it isn’t extended?

I’m a single mother of two. I’m not looking for a handout. I’m applying for jobs, but I’ve worked in restaurants my entire adult life. Even if I get a new job, I could be right back in the same position a couple weeks later with so many restaurants closing.


Dear Desperate,

Let’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best here. The worst-case scenario: Our politicians don’t approve any additional federal unemployment subsidy, leaving you and another 30 million other people with $600 less each week to pay the bills.

You’d still probably be able to collect your state’s jobless benefits. But nationwide, the average state unemployment payment is just $333 a week, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. So I understand why that’s keeping you up at night. No one can survive on that.

The best-case scenario: The extra $600 a week is extended in full before month’s end.

Of course, there are a lot of likely in-between scenarios: Maybe Congress approves extended benefits, but for an amount less than $600 a week. Or maybe an extension of some sort happens, but not before expanded benefits expire July 31.

Keep in mind that the best-case scenario will only be temporary. So I think you’ll sleep better at night if you can find ways to earn money outside of the unemployment system. As difficult as this will be, you need to focus all your energy on finding a bridge job, which is basically any job that can help you pay the bills.

Yes, you very well might wind up with less money than you’ve been getting on unemployment. Working could also make you ineligible even for your state’s benefit. But I don’t want you back in this state of anxiety a couple of months from now because benefits are set to expire again.

I don’t think you should be looking for restaurant jobs right now because, as you point out, those will be shaky at best.

You’ve worked in restaurants your entire life, but that doesn’t mean the work skills you’ve developed are only relevant in the restaurant business.

For example, you’re probably a pro at handling difficult customers without losing your cool. Customer service representatives are in demand across many industries. So try focusing your job hunt around your customer service experience instead of your restaurant experience.

Call centers are hiring in huge numbers as customers shop and look for support online and by phone, rather than going into brick-and-mortar locations. One advantage is that a lot of these gigs let you work from home. That makes them less vulnerable to Covid outbreaks and potential shutdowns.

Grocery chains, pharmacies, convenience stores and home improvement stores are also hiring customer service reps.

The pay isn’t going to be great, and you may find that a lot of the jobs are part time. You may need to work two part-time jobs or work one main job while also earning extra side income. These aren’t easy times to make a living.

If you have a vehicle, you could earn extra money delivering groceries or restaurant meals through a service like UberEats.

Another option may be child care, since as a parent, you clearly have experience there. Parents throughout the U.S. are panicking about whether to send their children back to school and how to deal with staggered schedules and partial reopening. Depending on your kids’ ages and school situation, maybe you could make extra money by babysitting.

In the meantime, do whatever you can to cut expenses. Many banks are still allowing customers affected by coronavirus to defer payments on credit cards or loans, so start making calls now to see what options you have for bills you can’t afford to pay.

If you can get groceries from a food pantry instead of buying them, do it. You can also call the 211 help line, which is run by United Way, to find out about other assistance programs you may qualify for.

Don’t think of this as asking for a handout. You’re collecting from the social safety net you’ve funded by working and paying taxes. This is the time to hold your head high and seek out whatever help is available.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].