When the unemployment rate for February was released, we got confirmation of what you and I already know: It's still getting worse. The official 8.1 percent unemployment rate is the highest in 24 years.
In the event that you or someone you love is caught in this unemployment storm, I want you to understand that the recent stimulus bill signed into law by President Barack Obama included some extra help for the unemployed. Get Suze's unemployment action step
Make sure you maximize the new unemployment benefits included in the $787 billion economic stimulus bill.
- Extended benefits. Typically, you can collect benefits for 26 weeks. That has been stretched to 33 weeks in the new federal legislation. Additionally, many states are providing even longer coverage through state initiatives. You want to check in with your state—and keep checking in—to stay on top of all changes. The computer systems should automatically adjust for these changes, but it doesn't hurt to double-check.
- A higher payout. The stimulus bill mandates that all unemployment checks include an extra $25 a week through this year. So if you have been drawing a benefit, it will include $25 more; the payment should show up in benefits within the next few weeks.
- A tax break. Normally, money you receive in unemployment benefits must be reported as taxable income on your federal tax return. In 2009, there is a tax break: The first $2,400 you receive in unemployment is 100 percent tax-free.
- Expanded c overage. I also recommend that anyone who may have applied for benefits and been turned down in the past few months check back and reapply. The stimulus bill included funding targeted to getting states to expand their coverage of lower-income and part-time workers.
State unemployment offices are inundated right now. You may find the best way to stay on top of the news and your claims is by computer. If you have recently been laid off, you can even apply for benefits online. Click here
to find the website for your state's unemployment benefits office. More recession rescue advice from Suze Orman
Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.