Millions of Americans are out of work due to the COVID-19 crisis, and with cases surging throughout the country, hopes of a quick escape from our current recession are quickly waning. If you've been on unemployment since March, when the pandemic first began forcing Americans out of work, then you may be nearing the end of your regular unemployment benefits -- but that doesn't mean all is lost.

Most states pay up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, but typically, during periods of dramatic economic unrest, those benefits get extended. That's precisely what happened during the Great Recession around 10 years back, when unemployment levels stayed high for a very long time. It's an option that's on the table now, as well.

Thanks to the CARES Act, which was signed in late March to provide financial relief during the COVID-19 outbreak, Americans on unemployment can receive up to 13 additional weeks of benefits through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. But one thing you do need to know is that you may not get that extra 13 weeks automatically. Rather, you may need to apply with your state again to get that additional money. And unfortunately, that could result in delays and a world of financial stress.

Man at laptop taking notes in notebook

Image source: Getty Images.

Will your extra unemployment benefits come through without a hitch?

In some states, you'll automatically begin receiving your extended unemployment benefits once you exhaust your first 26 weeks' worth. But in some cases, you'll need to apply again, the same way you applied for benefits the first time. You can consult your state's Department of Labor or unemployment website for further details.

If you are required to apply separately for that extra 13 weeks of benefits, brace for some delays, as your claim may need to be vetted and approved again, leaving you with an income gap while it's processed. Just as importantly, keep in mind that the extra unemployment benefits you receive may not be as generous as the weekly sum you've been collecting all along.

As part of the CARES Act, unemployment benefits were given a $600 weekly boost, and that's been keeping many Americans afloat during the ongoing crisis. But that $600 weekly boost is set to expire at the end of July, and so far, lawmakers have been unable to come to an agreement on extending it. If that boost is not renewed, you'll need to brace for a much lower weekly benefit. In fact, the average person on unemployment will only be entitled to about $380 a week in the absence of that boost.

Of course, with the economy opening back up, it may be the case that some people who were let go from their jobs at the start of the pandemic will be able to begin working again in the coming weeks. But as the COVID-19 outbreak worsens, additional shutdowns could leave a lot of people stuck on unemployment well toward the end of 2020. While extended benefits will no doubt help in that situation, losing that $600 weekly boost will put those collecting additional unemployment at a severe financial disadvantage.