The Complete Guide to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), is a federal program for people who are unable to work as a direct result of COVID-19 and are not eligible for regular state unemployment benefits, such as independent contractors or self-employed workers. 

PUA is one of the programs established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency stimulus package that President Trump signed into law on March 27, 2020. The Act increases the states' ability to provide unemployment insurance to many workers affected by COVID-19, including people who aren't ordinarily eligible for unemployment benefits.

Who is eligible to apply for PUA?

To be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), you must provide self-certification that you are able to work and available for work, and that you are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to one of these COVID-19-related situations (H.R. 748 - CARES Act):

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and are trying to get diagnosed
  • A member of your family has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • You are providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19
  • You are providing care for a child or other family member who can't go to school or to a care facility because it's closed due to COVID-19
  • You are quarantined or have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine
  • You were scheduled to start a job and no longer have the job or can't reach the job due to COVID-19
  • You have become the primary earner for a household because the head of household died as a direct result of COVID-19
  • You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19
  • Your place of employment is closed as an immediate result of COVID-19
  • You meet other criteria set forth by the Secretary of Labor

How do I apply?

File a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online.

  • After becoming unemployed contact your state's unemployment insurance program (https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance#find-state-unemployment-insurance-contacts) at the earliest.
  • As a general rule, you should file your claim with the state where you worked. If you have worked in a state other than the one you now live in or if you have worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you now live can provide information on how to file your claim with other states.
  • Make sure to give complete and correct information so that your claim is not delayed. You will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment when you file a claim. 
  • Find the contact information for your state's unemployment office to start your claim (https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance#find-state-unemployment-insurance-contacts).

Applicants will need to provide the following information:

  • Your social security number
  • If you are not a citizen of the United States, your A Number (USCIS Number)
  • Your residential address
  • Your mailing address (if different from residential address)
  • Your telephone number
  • Your email address
  • Your birth date
  • Your wage records for 2019, which includes:
    • 1099 forms
    • Pay stubs
    • Bank statements
  • The date(s) of birth and social security number(s) for your dependent child(ren)
  • If you want to use direct deposit for payment, furnish your bank account and routing numbers.

 

Next Steps

  1. Your application will be reviewed by the Department of Unemployment Assistance to confirm details, including whether you are unemployed for a COVID-19 related reason, proof of your total wages, and whether, other than your COVID-19 related reason, if you are able and available to work. 
  2. Continue to certify your weekly benefits. Failure to complete the Weekly Certification will result in you not being considered for payment. You can certify for benefits online by logging into your account. This is accessible twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week.
  3. Respond promptly to all requests you receive from the Department of Unemployment Assistance. Failure to respond may result in a disqualification from receiving benefits. 
  4. The Department of Unemployment Assistance will come to a decision and tell you if you are approved to receive pandemic unemployment benefits and the amount you will potentially receive. If your application is denied, you can appeal the decision within 30 days.
  5. For individuals choosing direct deposit, payment will be made within 4-7 business days. For all others, payment will be made within 10-14 business days.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

As an independent contractor what are my eligible unemployment benefits under the CARES Act?

You could be eligible for unemployment benefits, based on your personal situation and how your particular state implements the CARES Act. States are allowed to give Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to those who are self-employed, seeking part-time jobs, or who would not otherwise qualify for regular unemployment benefits. In order to access PUA benefits, you should be either unemployed, partially unemployed, or unavailable to work because of any health or economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The benefits provided by the PUA program lasts up to 39 weeks, available retroactively beginning on or after January 27, 2020, and closing on or before December 31, 2020. The PUA benefits amount granted will differ according to the state and is computed based on the weekly benefit amounts (WBA) provided under a state’s unemployment insurance laws. The WBA may be increased by additional unemployment benefits provided for under the CARES Act.

 

I have nearly exhausted my regular unemployment benefits. What kinds of relief can I expect from the CARES Act?

 

States are permitted to extend unemployment benefits under the CARES Act by up to 13 weeks as per the new Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) scheme. PEUC benefits are available for weeks of unemployment from the time your state implements the PEUC program till December 31, 2020, or before. The program includes most people available for or seeking work who no longer have access to regular unemployment compensation under state or federal laws. Significantly, the CARES Act gives flexibility to states to determine if you are “actively seeking work,” unable to seek work due to the effects of COVID-19, such as illness, quarantine, or travel restrictions.

Additionally, after exhausting the 13 weeks of additional benefits available from the PEUC program, you could continue to receive benefits under the PUA program. In other words, after exhausting your regular UC and PEUC benefits in less than 39 weeks, you could still be eligible to get assistance for the remaining weeks of the PUA’s 39-week period.

 

My current benefits from unemployment compensation do not provide adequate assistance given the unforeseen economic difficulties caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Can I expect to receive extra relief?

 

Yes, based on how your particular state decides to implement the CARES Act. The new law has created the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC), in order to give an extra $600 per week to people already collecting the regular UC (including unemployment compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE), and Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Service members (UCX), as well as Extended Benefits (EB), PUA, PEUC, Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA), Short Time Compensation (STC), Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), as well as payments under the Self Employment Assistance (SEA) program). This added benefit for your weeks of unemployment can be accessed beginning after the date on which your state and the U.S. Department of Labor entered into an agreement and ending on or before July 31, 2020.

 

As a nonprofit organization and a reimbursing employer, I am worried that I may be unable to timely reimburse the state for the unemployment benefits. What should I do?

 

Contact your state unemployment insurance office to learn what options may be available for delaying reimbursement payments. The CARES Act allows states to provide maximum flexibility to reimbursing employers as it relates to timely payments in lieu of contributions and assessment of penalties and interest.

 

Am I Eligible for Regular Unemployment Compensation?

 

The eligibility guidelines for unemployment insurance benefits are set by each state. However, you may qualify if you:

  • Are unemployed through no fault of your own. This means (in most states) that you are not working any longer due to unavailability of any work.
  • Meet work and wage requirements. You must fulfill the requirements of your state for earned wages, or time worked, during the "base period." (This in most states is usually the first four out of the last five completed quarters (3-month period) before you filed your claim).

 

My employer is still keeping the establishment open because it is essential. No one in my household including myself is sick. I do not have children or do not have to care for someone who cannot care for themselves. However, I’m afraid of getting coronavirus from customers coming to the store, so I quit and filed for unemployment. Can I obtain benefits under the CARES Act?

 

No. According to the CARES Act, eligibility for benefits requires you to experience one of the situations mentioned in the Act, but the example you mentioned above does not qualify. You are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) because you do not meet any of the circumstances that make you qualify.

There are, however, circumstances under the CARES Act in which specific, credible health concerns could require an individual to quit his or her job and thereby make the individual eligible for PUA. For example, an individual may be eligible for PUA if he or she was diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and although the individual no longer has COVID-19. However, the illness caused other health complications rendering the individual unable to fulfill his or her basic job functions as per an objective assessment, whether he/she had adequate accommodation or not. On the other hand, voluntarily deciding to quit your job out of a general concern about exposure to COVID-19 does not make you eligible for PUA. If you believe your employer’s response to the possible spread of COVID-19 creates a serious safety hazard or if you think your employer is not following OSHA standards, you can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (https://www.osha.gov/workers/file_complaint.html).

As a general rule, you are likely to be eligible for PUA due to concerns about exposure to the coronavirus only if you have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine as a result of such concerns. For instance, an individual whose immune system is compromised by virtue of a serious health condition, and who is therefore advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine in order to avoid the greater-than-average health risks that the individual might face if he or she were to become infected by the coronavirus, will be eligible for PUA if all other eligibility requirements are met.

 

My employer has allowed me to work from home with pay. However, because I am also homeschooling my children and my spouse is working, I find it difficult to work from home. Under Section 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(dd) of the CARES Act, I self-certify that I need my kids to be at school in order for me to be able to work. Do I qualify for PUA?

 

You could qualify. The CARES Act provides PUA benefits to the “primary caregiver” of a child who is being homeschooled directly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, in order to qualify, your taking care of the child must require such continuous care and attention that it is extremely difficult for you to carry out our customary job functions at home. On the other hand, if you are working from home and also taking care of a more mature child who is able to fend for himself/herself most of the day, you will probably not qualify for PUA assistance.

In addition, the CARES Act provides PUA only when a child is home because of a school closure that was the direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A school is not is not regarded as closed directly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after the date the school year was scheduled to end in the normal course. After the school year is over, parents should make their usual summer arrangements to look after their children, and will not, in the absence of other qualifying situations, be eligible for the PUA assistance. However, if the summer care facility for their children is also closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, they could still qualify for PUA. 

 

I’m partially employed because I’m a student and work part time doing ride-sharing. Can I certify that I cannot work and get PUA under the CARES Act?

You may be eligible for PUA, depending on your personal circumstances. Any basic worker such as a driver for a ride-sharing service, will be eligible for PUA provided he or she is unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to one or more of the qualifying reasons provided by the CARES Act. For instance, a driver employed by a ride-sharing service may be forced to quit his or her job if he or she was diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and although the driver no longer has COVID-19, the illness caused health complications that render the driver objectively unable to perform his or her essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation. Similarly, under an additional eligibility criterion established by the Secretary of Labor pursuant to 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(kk), a driver who receives an IRS Form 1099 from the ride-sharing company may qualify for PUA benefits if he/she has been forced to suspend operations as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, such as if an emergency state or municipal order restricting movement makes continued operations unsustainable. Also, widespread social distancing may so severely reduce customer demand for a driver’s services as to force him or her to suspend operations, thus making the driver eligible for PUA.

 

I was furloughed by my employer, but they have now reopened and asked me to return to my job. Can I remain unemployed?

No. Generally, individuals receiving regular unemployment benefits must accept any acceptable employment offer. A furloughed employee returning to his or her job definitely constitutes a suitable job offer that he/she must accept.

While eligibility for PUA does not depend on whether a person is seeking work actively, it does mandate that the person do not have a job, have a part-time job, or unable or unavailable to work due to certain conditions that are a direct result of the COVID-19 health emergency. In the situation outlined here, an employee who had been let go because his/her employer had ceased operations would probably be eligible for PUA benefits as long as the place of employment remains closed, as the direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, assuming all the eligibility requirements are fulfilled. However, once the employer reopens and the employee is recalled for work, as indicated above, PUA eligibility would come to an end unless the individual could point to other qualifying situations described in the CARES Act.

 

One of my workers left because he would rather receive the unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. Is he eligible for benefits? What can I do?

No. That employee would not be eligible for unemployment benefits or PUA. Eligibility for regular unemployment benefits is different from state to state but usually does not cover those who leave their jobs voluntarily. To be eligible for PUA, a worker must be ineligible for regular unemployment benefits or additional benefits under state or federal law, or emergency unemployment compensation related to the COVID-19 emergency, and satisfy one of the eligibility criteria featured in the CARES Act, as explained in Unemployment Insurance Program Letter 16-20 (https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?docn=4628). 

There are multiple qualifying circumstances related to COVID-19 that can make an individual eligible for PUA, including if the individual quits his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19. Quitting to access unemployment benefits is not one of them.

Individuals will be deemed to have committed fraud if they leave their jobs in order to receive higher benefits, lying about the reason for quitting their job in their UI application. If desired, employers can contest unemployment insurance claims through their state unemployment insurance agency’s process.