NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Yvonne Fitzner’s unemployment benefits ran out a year ago so like most “99ers,” the 68-year-old found herself doing whatever she could to get by.
“I sold personal possessions,” she tells MainStreet. “I sold my jewelry, dining room table and chairs, and now the only seat I have left is a stepladder.”
Fitzner had her rent reduced through a senior citizen scrie rent increase exemption, but today she mostly relies on the kindness of friends and strangers to help her pay for medical and utility bills, as she lives alone and therefore doesn’t qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as welfare).
As dire as it is, Fitzner’s situation isn’t unique. The New York resident is just one among millions of jobless Americans who have yet to find work before their unemployment benefits run out and are asking themselves, What next?
“So many people who’ve lost their jobs have never had to deal with these problems,” says Rebecca Dixon, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a national advocacy group for low-wage workers. “They’re having trouble navigating them, and just the sheer amount of information that goes into what it takes to apply for [government assistance] has been daunting to folks.”
Worse, “lots of people are not going to find a job fast enough,” Dixon adds, so more and more jobless Americans will run out of benefits, which poses a serious issue, since “unemployment benefits are sort of the lynchpin of a worker’s safety net in America.”
Dixon and other advocates for the jobless are hard at work encouraging the Department of Labor to put all of their resources in one place so that Americans who maxed out their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits can bypass the maze of government websites to easily identify, research and apply for the assistance they need—essentials like food and money to keep the lights on.
According to the experts we spoke with, the number of federally funded programs out there is small, but options exist if you know where to look. If you recently ran out of benefits, your first step is to visit the Department of Labor’s job site, careeronestop.org, to see what government aid you might qualify for. Next, you should come up with a budget to see exactly what you’ll need, according to Dorothy Barrick, a financial counselor with debt consulting company GreenPath.
MainStreet put together a list of federally-funded and nonprofit unemployment assistance programs for needy Americans to have as they work to get back on their feet. We list the federal programs first, then offer any nonprofit or community-based alternatives that we found during our research.