A simple guide to the CARES Act and its Effect on Unemployment Benefits
It is no secret Americans are dealing with some of the harshest economic conditions since the Great Recession. In terms of how many people have been laid off to date, American hasn’t seen these types of numbers in almost 100 years. Hoping to provide some relief, Congress passed two bills: the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, known as the FFCRA, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, otherwise known as the CARES Act. The two pieces of legislation contain a multitude of provisions, but I will be focusing on the provisions that affect the average unemployed American who is searching for support during this unprecedented time. For more information about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, it was covered by the firm in an article earlier this year here. Since then, the Department of Labor has provided a handy summary that is to be posted in the workplace for the sake of educating employees: read the summary here.
The Cares Act:
The Cares Act provides relief to the unemployed American through 3 main avenues: 1) it adds 600 dollars a week to whatever unemployment benefit amount a person was receiving; 2) it adds 13 weeks of benefits to the typical 26 weeks, thus for most states making an unemployment claim last 39 weeks; and 3) it extends unemployment benefits to those who could not receive them before and to those whose unemployment had expired.
The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (“FPUC”) portion of the bill adds 600 dollars a week on top of the unemployment benefits an individual is entitled to as determined by the state. The distributions are available to all those who receive unemployment benefits during the time period of March 25, 2020 to July 31, 2020. Many states, like Texas and California, will automatically add the FPUC to the employee’s unemployment without requiring an application. If you do not automatically receive the benefits during this time, you should contact your state employment or workforce department.
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (“PEUC”) extends the unemployment benefits for unemployed individuals for up to 13 weeks. Meaning, once the individual’s unemployment ends, typically at 26 weeks, the benefits will be extended at its current level for another 13 weeks. Under PEUC, individuals who have exhausted their unemployment benefits also have the opportunity to receive the 13 weeks of unemployment benefits. These individuals must look to their state’s criteria for what qualifies an individual for PEUC. For example, in Texas, an individual who no longer has unemployment benefits qualifies for the additional 13 weeks if: their original unemployment claim was exhausted on or after July 1, 2019, the original claim was dated on or after July 8, 2018, they have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits in any other state or territory, and they are available to work and looking for work. Once those conditions are met, the individual should receive additional relief from PEUC, and if the benefits are distributed between March 25 and July 31, 2020, they should also receive the FPUC on top of their unemployment benefits. Typically, states are requiring individuals to apply for PEUC benefits.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) extends unemployment benefits to individuals who traditionally have been shut off from applying: the self-employed, part-timers, and gig workers. Through the PUA, these workers will qualify for up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits. The benefits will be calculated based on the methodology utilized by your local state employment agency. Coverage is available starting with weeks of unemployment on or after January 27, 2020 and ending on or before December 31, 2020. To be eligible, individuals must provide self-certification to their state agency that they are either partially or fully unemployed, or unable and unavailable to work because:
- The individual is diagnosed with COVID-19 or experiences symptoms and seeks a diagnosis;
- The individual can’t reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
- A member of their household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- The individual is providing care for a family or household member 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 health emergency, and utilizing such school or facility care is required for the individual to work;
- The individual can’t reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 health emergency;
- The individual was scheduled to start employment and does not have a job or cannot reach their job as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
- The individual have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
- The individual has to quit their job as a direct result of the COVID-19;
- Their place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19.
All states require an application along with the self-certification verifying which conditions listed above apply.
Congress has gone to great lengths to not only increase the amount of benefits one could qualify for, but also to extend the length of time for payment and to open up unemployment benefits to groups of people who historically have been unable to utilize this program. Hopefully this guide gives you a primer as to what benefits are available during the pandemic, and aids in capitalizing on what the CARES Act offers to those facing some form of unemployment. Good luck.