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Update: The House of Representatives signed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill in the afternoon of Wednesday March 10. The bill, which President Biden is expected to sign on Friday March 12, includes extension of pandemic unemployment benefit programs, direct payments, and tax credit expansion. 

Brendan Hoang, a Cal Poly graduate earning his master’s degree in quantitative economics, has been unemployed for two years. However, last August he applied for unemployment on a whim, hoping for a little extra cash as he started his graduate program. 

Six months later, Hoang is making $341 a week from the Pandemic Unemployment Assitance (PUA) program. 

Today, Wednesday March 10, Congress is voting on the American Rescue Act. The bill will lengthen the duration of the PUA program from March 14 to Sept. 6, which will give individuals an extra six months of $300 weekly unemployment benefits. 

In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families and small businesses. The CARES Act expanded states’ ability to provide unemployment benefits for workers affected by the pandemic. 

Under the CARES Act, states have extended unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to “individuals who are self-employed, seeking part-time employment or who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment compensation,” according to the Department of Labor

Students are eligible for these benefits. 

According to the Century Foundation, millions of college students have jobs while taking classes. Historically, this group was ineligible to receive unemployment benefits because they either do not earn enough money to qualify or are presumed unable and unavailable for work if they are enrolled full-time in school.  

Hoang learned from his roommate about the benefits he could receive from the PUA program. Right before returning to Cal Poly for his masters he decided to apply for unemployment because he figured there was nothing to lose. He filled out the application and when he was accepted his worries of paying for groceries and rent subsided. 

“My quality of life has been improved for the most part,” said Hoang. “Just because having the unemployment checks wasn’t something that I planned on for this last year.

Hoang is now making enough to pay for his daily expenses like groceries and rent, but has also begun investing in stocks with the remaining money that isn’t going towards those basic necessities. 

“I began investing about three years ago,” said Hoang. “This unemployment money gave me more capital to invest in.” 

Hoang has successfully been investing in stocks and stock options. Even though the money will eventually run out, he has enough saved to get him through the end of the academic year and into the working world. 

Throughout this entire process, the biggest thing Hoang has learned is that he does want to do something finance related. 

“Being able to manage portfolios has reinforced what I learned in my undergrad as a finance major,” said Hoang. 

In Dec. 2020, former President Donald Trump extended the period of applicability for the PUA program until March 14, 2021, which had originally been slated to end in December. 

However, under President Joe Biden, this unemployment program could be extended another six months. On Saturday Feb. 27, the House of Representatives approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion dollar pandemic aid package. A week later, on March 6, the senate approved the package in a 50-49 party-line vote. 

“My top priority throughout these negotiations has been securing the strongest possible deal for jobless workers that could pass the Senate. This agreement achieves that,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Friday.

Now, the Democratic controlled House is expected to pass the bill, while President Biden will sign it soon after. 

Unemployed students who lost their job due to COVID-19, who were doing a work-study program through a university but can’t anymore due to COVID-19, or who’s job or internship offer was rescinded due to COVID-19 can apply to the PUA program through their state’s unemployment program

Hoang said that the best thing for students to do is to go out and apply. 

“It doesn’t hurt to try,” Hoang said. “If they say no at least you know that you tried.”

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