Under Section 2102 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act enacted on March 27, 2020, certain individuals who would not normally qualify for unemployment compensation are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits if they are unable to continue working as a result of COVID-19. On April 10, 2020, the USDOL issued guidance to the states around implementation of PUA. The guidance and links to additional information can be found at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=4628.
Eligibility for PUA includes those individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits under state or federal law or pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC), including those who have previously exhausted their rights to benefits. Covered individuals also include self-employed individuals, 1099 workers, gig workers, those seeking part-time employment, and individuals lacking sufficient work history. Depending on state law, covered individuals may also include clergy and those working for religious organizations who are not covered by regular unemployment compensation.
Benefits extend for up to 39 weeks for qualifying individuals who are otherwise able to work and available for work within the meaning of state law, except that they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work due to COVID-19 related reasons, as defined in the CARES Act, as set forth below:
- The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
- A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- The individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work;
- The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
- The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
- The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
- The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
- The individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19; or
- The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Benefit payments under PUA are retroactive, for weeks of unemployment, partial employment, or inability to work due to COVID-19 reasons starting on or after January 27, 2020. The CARES Act specifies that PUA benefits cannot be paid for weeks of unemployment ending after December 31, 2020.
The guidance also includes directives to states about protecting unemployment insurance program integrity in order to make sure benefits are provided only to those who qualify. Employers should therefore take care to respond accurately to requests for information from state unemployment offices and to expect some variability in decision-making on benefit eligibility until the impact of the guidance flows through to the agencies charged with administering these programs. Similarly, individuals who previously believed they may not have been eligible for benefits should apply given the expansion of those covered.