The current job market continues to fluctuate amid the active COVID-19 pandemic, leaving an unprecedented number of workers laid off and struggling to find alternative employment options. Without a clear sense of when the economy will return to its former stability, millions of Americans continue to find themselves grappling with the uncertainty of their health, livelihood, finances, and work. However in times of need, there are always resources available designed to make life a little easier.
Introduced as a provision of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides emergency unemployment assistance to those who are excluded from traditional state unemployment and those who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits. PUA insurance is available through December 31, 2020 and eligible applicants can receive retroactive benefits to ensure the highest amount of financial support is received.
Whether you’re freshly unemployed or your state unemployment benefits are nearing the end of their term, use this guide on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to get a better understanding of the program, evaluate your eligibility for PUA, and find assistance in your state.
What is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is a federal program that extends unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility to those who may not typically qualify under traditional state and federal standards. PUA extends unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors, freelancers, and part-time workers whose employment has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was introduced under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as a means of providing rapid and direct economic assistance to those in need, who may have been living paycheck-to-paycheck and now have to get by on an emergency budget. PUA provides temporary income to eligible individuals who became recently unemployed due to the pandemic and are either self-employed, do not have sufficient work history to be eligible for a regular UI claim, or have used up other types of unemployment insurance benefits provided by their state.
What’s the difference between unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?
While UI and PUA both offer financial assistance to workers who have lost their jobs or have had their hours reduced, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance features specific conditional restrictions that may limit benefits and coverage extended to qualifying applicants. The most notable difference between the two is that PUA is only offered to those whose unemployment or reduced hours are a direct result of the pandemic.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is also term-limited, and only available from January 27th, 2020 to December 31st, 2020. Regular unemployment insurance does not place a time restriction on eligibility to receive financial support. In some cases, PUA could offer a higher payout than regular state UI due to the fact that the minimum PUA benefit amount in some states is higher than the minimum benefit amount for regular UI.
Most states offer Pandemic Unemployment Assistance through their regular unemployment insurance programs, which can also help you determine which financial assistance option is best for your unique situation.
Do I qualify for PUA?
You may be eligible to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) if you are not eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) and you are unemployed or facing reduced hours due to circumstances directly related to COVID-19 and reason permissible under federal law. Those that may qualify include:
- Self-employed workers
- Business owners
- Independent contractors
- Laid off full-time and part-time employees (if rejected for traditional UI)
- Furloughed full-time and part-time employees (if rejected for traditional UI)
- Workers with limited work history
- Workers who have exhausted their regular UI benefits.
To receive PUA, you will be required to provide evidence that you are unemployed, your hours have been reduced, you are unable to work, or you are unavailable to work due to one or more of the following circumstances:
- Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19
- You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19
- You have been diagnosed with COVID-19
- You 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
- A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19
- You are providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19
- You 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
- You have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19
Are independent contractors eligible for PUA?
Unlike traditional unemployment insurance, independent contractors are generally traditionally not disqualified from receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Self-employed and independent contractors may be eligible for PUA if they are out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This even includes app-based workers like rideshare drivers and gig workers. Most states direct independent contractors in need of assistance to either apply for regular UI (as qualifications vary from state to state), or for PUA if rejected from regular UI.
How can I find my state’s unemployment resources?
If you are looking for unemployment benefits in your state, your primary go-to resource is your state’s department of labor hub. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Services by Location hub to find the exact link to your state of residence’s unemployment benefits application page.
Do keep in mind that each state operates its own unemployment insurance program, so it’s important to do your research on eligibility in accordance with your state. For more guidance on finding unemployment insurance resources during COVID-19, visit dol.gov.
How can I apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?
In order to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, you will need to file a claim with your state’s unemployment insurance program. From there, the state will determine if you are eligible for regular UI or require PUA to accommodate your unique situation. Depending on the state, claims may be filed by telephone, online, or in person.
Tips for applying for PUA:
- It’s important to contact your state’s unemployment insurance program as soon as possible after becoming unemployed— this ensures you receive the financial support you need in a timely manner.
- You should file your unemployment claim within the state where you worked. In the event that you worked in a state other than the one where you now reside or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you currently live can supply the appropriate guidance you need about how to file your claim with other states.
- When you file a claim, you will be asked to provide information such as addresses and dates of your former employment. To ensure your claim is handled expeditiously and efficiently, be sure to give complete and accurate information.
- Make sure to enter your Social Security Number and date of birth correctly
- When asked why you are unemployed, do not answer “None of these apply”. Applicants must meet a specific COVID-related reason in order to receive benefits. Select the option closest to your individual situation.
What do I do if my claim for benefits is denied?
The federal government regards the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to be a last-resort option for those in immediate need for financial support. This means that PUA insurance is solely available to individuals who do not qualify for regular state unemployment insurance or those who have been rejected from regular state unemployment insurance.
If you were denied for your state’s regular unemployment insurance, there are a few common reasons why:
- Your income earnings do not qualify you for regular unemployment insurance benefits. If you received a Monetary Determination that stated you are not eligible for benefits, you should file a claim using specifically for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
- You filed a claim less than a year ago but you have exhausted all of your benefits. If you have used up all of the benefits available to you per a claim you filed within the last year, you should file a claim using your state’s Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation link.
- You are unemployed for a reason other than the pandemic.
If you are unemployed for a reason not related to COVID-19, you will need to file a regular UI claim to see if you qualify for your state’s standard unemployment insurance benefits. Do note that if you quit your job, you do not qualify for UI or PUA.
While you may be unemployed for the moment, you still have access to resources that can help you maintain your financial well-being through these tough economic times. If you’re losing out on income due to COVID-19 and, for whatever reason, you don’t qualify for your state’s unemployment insurance, then try applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It might just help take a little pressure off as you continue your job search and seek out new opportunities.