Losing a job can be devastating. It can throw your life into a tailspin and severely delay or even kill your progress and plans for the future. Once you receive a little help through unemployment compensation, you may find yourself right back where you started when the benefit ends.
You may have been blindsided when you first lost your job, but losing unemployment before you’ve found a replacement job can also be a sucker-punch. As difficult as it all is, you still have to will yourself into being proactive. Here are a few things you should do to prepare for the end of unemployment compensation.
Begin with the end in mind
The best thing to do immediately after you receive your first unemployment check is to plan on not receiving it. It is a great aid that can help keep you afloat until you find work. But, you must keep the fact that it is only temporary in the forefront of your mind. During normal economic times, unemployment lasts 26 weeks, or six months. (See also: How Long Can You Really Live on Unemployment?)
Reduce your spending and live off as little as possible. And do your best not to depend on the benefit. The benefit itself makes this easier because it usually isn’t enough to cover all of your living expenses. It is only assistance — similar to someone helping you up when you trip and fall. They help you to your feet. They don’t carry you.
You have to find a way to cover the shortfall and generate your own income as quickly as possible. Put yourself on a shoestring budget. Establish spending and payment priorities, because some things may have to go unpaid. Call your creditors now and alert them to the situation and try to maintain a good relationship with them throughout the process. Downsize. Sell stuff. Get a side gig and do odd jobs. Unemployment can temporarily stop or at least slow the bleeding, but remember — it’s only temporary. (See also: 5 Budget Overhaul Tricks for the Recently Unemployed)
Make getting a job your top priority
Job loss is so devastating because it is a loss — economically and emotionally. Dealing with the hurt, betrayal, and disappointment is a massive task by itself. Add to that coping with money issues and the instability it causes, and you’ve got a deep hole to climb out of. This can make looking for another job seem like a herculean effort. Try and view your unemployment compensation as a safety net and springboard. It helps ease the financial burden and it should propel you to action.
As the six-month period begins winding down, try adjusting your employment search to include jobs you wouldn’t normally consider. Think outside the box. You may even have to get two jobs temporarily to help stay afloat. The closer you get to the benefit expiration date, the less picky you should become. Get training, attend job fairs, and leverage your networks and professional relationships to assist you during your hunt. You have to be aggressive, persistent, and diligent. (See also: 7 Networking Tips for the Recently Unemployed)
Federal and state-funded assistance programs are available specifically to help you through this period. Sadly, these programs’ processes can be slow, bureaucratic, and inefficient, which is why it is imperative that you start the process ASAP. Benefits and programs vary by location, so be sure to check with your state’s local agencies to understand requirements and procedures.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP provides food purchasing assistance to families in need. The amount you receive is based on your household size, income, and expenses. If you qualify, this could be a great way of ensuring your family is fed. It can also free up some cash enabling you to repurpose the grocery money and use it for another need. The benefit can be used at a host of traditional grocery stores, convenience stores, and even at your local farmers market.
Self-Employment Assistance Program (SEAP)
Have you ever heard the saying, “If you can’t find a job, create one?” That’s exactly what SEAP is designed to help you do. SEAP is a state-funded grant program specifically designed to train individuals receiving unemployment the basics of launching their own small business. And the best part about this program is that in most states, participants are not required to look for a job. The training program is your employment seeking activity. To find out if you qualify, check with your local unemployment office.
If you foresee yourself struggling to pay rent or your mortgage, help is available. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers a number of rental assistance programs including the Housing Choice Voucher Program. This voucher program provides assistance by paying all or a portion of your rent, if you qualify. Most states also have some sort of Emergency Rental Assistance Program which provides short-term, income-based assistance. And the federal government offers assistance to those in rural areas through its Rural Rental Assistance Program.
If you are struggling to make mortgage payments, the Federal Trade Commission offers protection for distressed homeowners from predatory and unscrupulous lending practices. There are a lot of private and nonprofit agencies that can help you refinance, negotiate a short sale, and/or keep your home if you fall behind. The key is to do your research. Understand what you are signing. And don’t make decisions out of fear or under pressure. You have options. Breathe, consult an objective expert, and move forward with what works best for your situation.
Nonprofit and social service agencies
Every state has a different suite of services and resource offerings for those in need. Finding those resources can be difficult — especially when you don’t know where to look. 211.org was established to address this need. It is a repository of information containing resource offerings for every state and parts of Canada. It is a free service that can help you find federal, state, local, nonprofit, and (small) fee-for-service assistance. It doesn’t matter if you get help from family and friends, your church, or a federal or state source, as long as you get help.