Unemployment Insurance Benefits in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, And Economic Security (CARES) Act: A Guide For Employees

On Behalf of | Mar 30, 2020 | Employment law

By Samuel J. Cordes

The New Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has now become law.

It provides about $260 billion in enhanced and expanded unemployment insurance benefits (UC) to millions of workers throughout the country who are being furloughed, laid off, or finding themselves without work through no fault of their own because of the COVID-19 pandemic and our public health response to it.

The CARES Act creates three new UC programs:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Compensation;
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation; and
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

All three programs are fully federally funded.

Here is an analysis of all three, as well as “short-time compensation,” explaining what benefits are available to workers who find themselves without any or enough employment or work in these difficult times.

A Temporary Boost to Unemployment Compensation

The CARES Act temporarily supplements UC benefit amounts and extends the duration of those benefits.

Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC)

From March 27, 2020 through July 31, 2020, if you are an UC or a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimant, you will receive your usual calculated benefit, plus an additional $600 per week in compensation.

PUC is a flat amount to those on UC, including those receiving a partial unemployment benefit check. PUC also goes to those receiving the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program described below.

PUC may be paid either with the regular UC payment or at a separate time, but it must be paid weekly.

PUC is not income for purposes of eligibility for either Medicaid or CHIP.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

The CARES Act also provides an additional 13 weeks of Pennsylvania UC benefits, which will become available after you exhaust all your regular state UC benefits. Pennsylvania currently offers 26 weeks of UC benefits.

To receive PEUC, you must be actively engaged in searching for work. The bill explicitly provides, however, that “a State shall provide flexibility in meeting such [work search] requirements in case of individuals unable to search for work because of COVID-19, including because of illness, quarantine, or movement restriction.”

PUC, PEUC, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (discussed below) are fully federally funded. States will also receive additional administrative funds to operate these programs.

Non-Reduction Rule. There is a “non-reduction rule” in the Act, which means that as long as the states are participating in these programs, they may not do anything to decrease the maximum number of weeks of UC or the weekly benefits available under state law as of January 1, 2020.

Waiting Week. In addition, Pennsylvania usually has a statutory one-week “waiting period” for people to receive UC benefits. Governor Wolf waived the one week waiting period earlier in March. Nonetheless, under the CARES Act, states that waive the one-week waiting period will be fully reimbursed by the federal government for that week of benefits paid out to workers, plus the administrative expenses necessary for processing those payments.

Emergency Assistance to Reach Workers Typically Left Out

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides emergency unemployment assistance to workers who are left out of regular state UC or who have exhausted their state UC benefits (including any Extended Benefits that might become available in the future). Up to 39 weeks of PUA are available to workers who are immediately eligible to receive PUA. The program will expire December 31, 2020, unless otherwise extended.

Importantly, this program will provide income support to many workers who are shut out of the state UC systems in this country. In fact, workers who are eligible for state UC are not eligible for the PUA program.

Those eligible for PUA include:

Self-employed workers, including independent contractors, freelancers, workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long-enough work history to qualify for Pennsylvania UC benefits.

Note in Pennsylvania however, “gig” workers may qualify for regular UC because of the broad definitions of employment in Pennsylvania law and so you should first apply for regular UC.  The Act notes that States should be encouraged to streamline their applications and to request pay data in bulk from major companies. In states that have passed formal exemptions from UC for transportation network company drivers or app-based workers, PUA will provide crucial benefits.

To obtain this benefit, you will need to provide self-certification that you are (1) partially or fully unemployed, OR (2) unable and unavailable to work because of one of the following circumstances:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and are seeking diagnosis;
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • You are providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19You are providing care for a child or other household member who can’t attend school or work because it is closed due to COVID-19;
  • You are quarantined or have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
  • You were scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or cannot reach your place of employment as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak;
  • You have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household has 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 a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • You meet other criteria established by the Secretary of Labor.

You are not eligible for PUA if you can either telework with pay or are receiving paid sick days or paid leave.

Unfortunately, workers must be authorized to work to be eligible for PUA, meaning that undocumented workers will not qualify.

The PUA program will run from January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020. You will be eligible for retroactive benefits and can access benefits for a maximum of 39 weeks, including any weeks for which you received regular UC. But eligibility will sunset on December 31, 2020, absent any extensions.

PUA benefits are calculated the same way as they are for the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program under the Stafford Act, which is the model for the PUA program. PUA will have a minimum benefit that is equal to one-half the state’s average weekly UC benefit (about $190 per week).

Short-Time Compensation (Work-Sharing)

Short-time compensation (STC), also known as work-sharing, programs help employers avoid layoffs by putting workers on part-time schedules with partial unemployment benefits to help make up for some of the lost income. Under the CARES Act, the federal government will fully reimburse states for all STC programs already in place that conform with the requirements of Section 3306(v) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Act also provides $100 million in grants to states to implement, improve, and promote STC programs.