Today, we conclude our week-long series on surviving sudden unemployment.
Health Care Coverage
If your company is not paying your health care premiums while you are unemployed, if your company has more than 20 employees, you can continue your existing health care coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) law. However, you will need to pay this premium yourself. The cost of the COBRA premium may be higher than short-term insurance you can obtain for yourself.
If you have a health condition, you will want to ensure continuous coverage, so don’t let your group plan lapse before you get short-term insurance coverage in place. You may also want to check with your employer’s human resources department to be sure you will be able to get back on the group plan when work resumes.
If COBRA premiums are too costly, you can also look into short-term health insurance coverage. One source of options is ehealthinsurance.com. You may also be able to take advantage of private coverage through enrollment on an Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care exchange. If you had insurance through your employer that is no longer available, you may be eligible to enroll in the individual exchanges as part of a Special Enrollment Period. Check your eligibility and options available on Healthcare.gov or your state’s health insurance marketplace. Depending on your income, you may also qualify for free or low-cost coverage under Medicaid. (The Healthcare.gov site provides information about this option as well.)
If It’s Time for a Change
You may also take this opportunity to change directions with your career. Because the provisions under the CARES Act do not require those receiving unemployment benefits to be actively seeking work, you could use this time to start a new business.
In 2012, the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Act authorized $35 million in funds to encourage states to enhance and promote Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) programs. SEA entitles unemployed individuals to claim jobless benefits while simultaneously gaining access to small business development assistance. An individual with a “viable” business plan can continue to receive unemployment benefits as long as they are working full-time to get a new company off the ground.
Under this program, individuals receive financial aid equal to their unemployment insurance benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks while they receive entrepreneurial training and other resources (including counseling and technical assistance) to help them launch a business.
However, note that you are not eligible to receive extended unemployment benefits if you participate in the SEA program — you are limited to 26 weeks of payments, and you may not be eligible to receive the additional $600/week in federal assistance. Check with your state’s Department of Labor to see if they offer a SEA program. (As of March 2020, the states of Delaware, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon have active Self-Employment Assistance programs.)
Take advantage of the programs available to you. Many of these are paid for through state and federal funds. This isn’t charity. These are programs paid by tax dollars, and the goal is to get you back working again.
What To Do Now
Without a job to go to every day, your days may seem endless. (Unless you have children at home that you’re suddenly in charge of teaching.) Work on projects that you’ve put off because you’ve been busy with work.
Think about where you want your career to be one year from now, and five years from now. Take the opportunity to move closer to these goals.
Focus on personal development. Are there skills you can work on developing? There are opportunities to take online classes for free. For example, the eight Ivy League universities are offering hundreds of online courses to the public at no charge. Many other course platforms are making courses available online for free or low cost.
With many of the free courses, you can also secure certification for an additional fee, which you can add to your résumé.
Speaking of résumés now is also an excellent time to work with your résumé writer to update your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and other career search documents. When you’re back to work and the economy is humming along again, you may find yourself wanting to look for a better job. Now might be the right opportunity to take the time to gather your accomplishments.
Seek support from others during this time. In-person gatherings are highly discouraged, but you can use technology like FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom to meet up virtually with friends, family, and even co-workers.
Be sure to take care of yourself during this time. Eat right. Try to get at least some exercise each day. Get plenty of sleep. Take advantage of the programs and services available to you, and be prepared for what’s next.