Millions of Americans are waiting months to get unemployment checks. Some have been sidelined since March.

Food bank delivers meals to those who need them.
(Image credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Unprecedented unemployment has overwhelmed America's jobless benefits system just as millions of Americans need it most.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the worst run of unemployment the U.S. has ever seen, with tens of millions of people filing for jobless benefits at the height of the crisis last spring. But even as job numbers slowly begin to recover, at least 1.2 million Americans are still waiting to receive their first checks, The Washington Post reports.

A Post analysis found 703,000 Americans have pending unemployment appeals, while 529,000 are waiting to hear if they'll get benefits — and that's just in the states that publicly share unemployment data or provided it to the Post. Many of those holdups have been the result of little mistakes and typos, leading to lengthy fraud prevention checks and manual reviews. Others stem from confusing unemployment situations, like when unemployment offices have to figure out if a gig worker actually lost their job because of the pandemic. Outdated computer systems and staffing shortages are meanwhile making it hard to quickly resolve those issues, even in states that have hired more workers to process the influx of unemployment applications.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Last week, the U.S. government enacted a coronavirus relief package to replace the one that expired back in July — enhanced unemployment benefits along with it. The new package includes a $300 boost to weekly unemployment benefits, as well as extends special unemployment programs that expired at the end of 2020. But those 1 million-plus Americans who haven't gotten a check have yet to benefit from the boost, and are instead being left to wade through the pandemic with little or no government assistance. Read more at The Washington Post.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.