Broke in Philly

How much money will Philly residents get from the federal coronavirus aid package?

The stimulus program also includes increased unemployment benefits — even for gig workers.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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Close to half a million Philadelphians will get direct payouts and more than half a million could be eligible for increased unemployment under the federal coronavirus stimulus program.

Approved by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday and expected to be passed by the House this week, the congressional aid package appropriates $2 trillion for unemployment insurance, small business loans, rescue of major industries, and cold hard cash for low-income and middle-class workers.

That last part will have a huge impact in Philly, more than many other places around the nation.

“It is going to be more helpful in places like Philadelphia, where it will have greater meaning because we have so many people at low-income levels,” said Mike Bognanno, an economics professor at Temple.

In Philadelphia, nearly 1 in 4 people lives below the federal poverty line — the highest rate of any large U.S. city — and close to half of residents live paycheck to paycheck.

The stimulus will award one-time payouts of $1,200 to individuals making $75k or less annually (about 400,000 people, per recent census data).

People making up to $99k will get a partial payment, unless you’re a single parent, in which case you can make up to $112.5k and be eligible for the full amount. Anyone with kids under those brackets will also get an additional $500 per child.

How much that cash will help depends on your situation. On average, Philadelphians spend more than $1,600 per month on rent and $400+ on food. But for lower-income residents, the infusion could make a huge difference.

“At first glance, when you see the dollars in bulk, it seems like it’s a drop in the bucket,” said Bognanno, the Temple prof. But if you take a family of four living under the poverty line, “that’s more than three months of income for that family. That’s very meaningful.”

Scroll down to determine what kind of payout you’ll get, how your income bracket is determined, when the money will arrive, and who’s eligible for unemployment benefits.

What will I get from the federal stimulus?

How will my income level be determined?

If you’ve already filed your 2019 taxes with the IRS, it’ll be that number used to determine what kind of payout you’re eligible for. If not, federal officials will look at 2018 filings.

That’s not necessarily ideal for freelancers or gig workers or anyone who doesn’t work for a company with stable salaries or regular work schedules, since the amount you made in 2018 might not reflect your current earning.

On the positive side, freelancers and gig workers who find themselves totally jobless could now be eligible for unemployment (see below).

When will I get the money?

A potential snag in stimulus’ helpfulness to people who running out of money during the lockdown is timing.

If you have a direct deposit already set up with the IRS, you could see your payment arrive within a few weeks of the bill being signed into law. If not, it’ll be mailed to you via paper check…and will arrive within four months.

Depending on how long a coronavirus-induced recession might last, Temple economist Bognanno said Philly might need another boost from the federal government for it to make a real difference.

“If we really do dip into a significant recession as a result of this,” he said, “people are going to look back at this check, and it will have been spent.”

What about unemployment?

Thanks to the pandemic, unemployment is skyrocketing, around the U.S. and in Pennsylvania. Between Mar. 16-24, a record-breaking 540,000 PA residents applied for unemployment benefits — compared to 168k people in January.

Under the new legislation, most people will be eligible for unemployment for four months longer than before — and could receive up to $600 in additional benefits per week.

Philadelphia’s unemployment rate recently clocked in at 5.4% — higher than the national rate of 3.5%.

“That 5.4% that was already unemployed and would soon be expiring would be entering a labor market with really difficult conditions,” Bognanno said. “For those people facing expiring benefits, any extension will be valuable.”

What if I’m a freelancer?

Philadelphians who are self-employed or employed by the gig economy could also benefit from the aid package. Folks like Uber drivers and freelancers will, for the first time, be covered under the new unemployment benefits program.

There’s not a ton of data available on Philly’s freelance market. But if our local stats track with the national rate of 36% of the country working for the gig economy, then that means more than 550,000 people will become eligible for brand new benefits.


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