A majority of unemployed Americans say they know about COVID-19 government relief but haven’t utilized it, survey finds

Woman holding stylized umbrella to represent credit card relief optionsImage: Woman holding stylized umbrella to represent credit card relief options

In a Nutshell

In a nationally representative Credit Karma survey in April, Americans were asked about their awareness of coronavirus-related federal relief measures. We found that many Americans surveyed — including 80% of those who are currently unemployed and aware of the relief measures — haven’t used any of the emergency relief provided by the government. And among unemployed respondents who said they were aware of government aid but haven’t taken advantage of any, nearly two-thirds (62%) said they wouldn’t know where to start if they wanted to apply. If you’re looking for information, we’ve got some tips to help you understand your relief options and budget for these uncertain times.
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Most unemployed Americans (79%) are aware of the emergency financial aid the federal government is offering in response to COVID-19, a nationally representative Credit Karma survey found in April.

But a majority (80%) of unemployed respondents from our survey who know about the relief measures say they haven’t used them. And among unemployed respondents who said they haven’t taken advantage of government aid, nearly two-thirds (62%) said they wouldn’t know where to start if they wanted to apply. (Learn more about our methodology.)

So what’s stopping unemployed Americans from using federal resources? According to our survey, many respondents assumed they didn’t qualify for help, others felt generally overwhelmed by information, and others were confused by the process or unaware of what’s available.

Another possible explanation is that people simply don’t understand the full scope of aid that the government is offering. For example, respondents who reported being unemployed — and have filed for unemployment — may not realize that they’re benefiting from federal COVID-19 aid in the form of boosted unemployment insurance.

Either way, confusion seems to be the name of the game when it comes to receiving COVID-19 aid from the government. So if you’re confused about where to turn for help, you’re not alone. Read on for more data along with financial tips and information to help you understand government relief options that may be able to help.

Key survey findings

A majority of unemployed Americans from our survey (79%) are aware of the government’s coronavirus-related financial relief measures.
Despite this, only 20% of unemployed Americans who know about relief said they’ve used COVID-19 government aid. Among the 80% of unemployed respondents who know about aid and haven’t used it, nearly two-thirds (62%) said they wouldn’t know where to turn to apply for government aid.
Unemployed respondents pointed to multiple reasons they hadn’t used government relief — but many assumed they didn’t qualify for government aid (27%).
For Americans who know about and have used government relief, more than half (54%) surveyed say the stimulus check has been one of the most helpful government relief measures. Unemployed respondents especially highlighted the check’s helpfulness: In this group, 68% said the stimulus check was among the most helpful financial aid options.

Why aren’t unemployed Americans using government relief measures?

While a majority of Americans are aware of government relief measures, many aren’t taking advantage of resources that could help — including those who identify as unemployed.

Taking a closer look, unemployed respondents were asked to describe what kept them from taking advantage of government relief measures. They pointed to five key reasons (they were allowed to pick multiple answers).

  1. They assume they’re not eligible for relief measures (27%).
  2. They know they’re not eligible for relief measures (27%).
  3. They feel overwhelmed by information (16%).
  4. They feel like they’re in a better financial situation than most and don’t want to tap into resources that would benefit others more (8%).
  5. They find the process too confusing or they think the waitlist to receive benefits will be too long (both 7%).

Some of these results suggest that there’s a disconnect between Americans’ awareness of government relief measures and their understanding of who qualifies for government assistance programs and how to sign up for them.

How is government relief helping those who are using it?

Though many unemployed Americans who could be eligible for government relief aren’t using it, according to our survey, 1 in 5 unemployed respondents (20%) who know about the government aid have applied for and received it.

And those who have received government assistance have found these programs helpful. More than two-thirds (68%) of unemployed respondents who reported using aid said that the federal stimulus check payment has been one of the most helpful relief measures, while nearly half (48%) said unemployment insurance was among the most helpful. And nearly a quarter of unemployed respondents (23%) said the suspension of federal student loan payments through Sept. 30, 2020, was also one of the most helpful relief measures.

Tips for paying your bills and getting the aid you need

It’s hard to know where to turn right now, but being proactive and knowing your options can help.

Research how to get federal aid

Governments at the federal, state and local levels have programs to help with unemployment, furloughs and other challenges. Even if you assume you won’t qualify for relief, it doesn’t hurt to check. You may be surprised and find out that the government is offering help. For example, you may qualify for relief from your utility or rent bills.

Check out our information on government relief measures, where you can learn more about programs currently available.

Explore relief options for bills 

Financial institutions, lenders and landlords may be willing to work directly with you if you’re struggling to pay your bills. You may be able to defer payments or find other kinds of relief. Check out some of our resources for different types of bills.

Assess your cash flow and needs and then figure out what bills you can pay first

Examine how much money you have coming in each week versus how much you spend. This will help you prioritize your spending in the near term.

Prioritize paying for the daily needs and bills that are the most essential to you and your family. The National Consumer Law Center has a guide explaining which types of debt to prioritize. According to the NCLC, debts that could jeopardize assets you need, like your home and car, are generally higher priority than concerns like medical debt or credit card debt.

Additionally, using a modified version of something like the 50/30/20 budget rule can help you categorize your spending, which can help you feel more in control.


On behalf of Credit Karma, in April 2020 Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey of 1,037 U.S. adults to better understand awareness of government relief measures related to the coronavirus. Unemployed respondents do not include full-time students or retirees.

About the author: Paris Ward is a content strategist at Credit Karma, providing readers with the latest news that will aid their financial progress. She has more than a decade of experience as a writer and editor and holds a bachelor’s… Read more.