-- by Heather Long, The Washington Post:
Erika Rose was shocked this month when she sat down to do her taxes and realized she owed $600 to the federal government. She has been on unemployment since April and has spent much of the winter stretching every penny to pay rent and to keep the lights on. On a recent trip to the grocery store, she had only $20 in her bank account.
“I was so upset. How do I owe over $600 in taxes?” said Rose, 31, who lives in Los Angeles. “I have never been so fearful in my life of how I’m going to pay my bills.”
Rose is among millions of unemployed workers facing surprise tax bills, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, and many say they just cannot pay. For tax purposes, weekly unemployment payments count as income just like wages from a job. But few people realize the money they get from the government is actually taxable. Fewer than 40 percent of the 40 million unemployed workers in 2020 had taxes withheld from their payments, according to the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank.