4 Things to Know About Unemployment Benefits Under the CARES Act

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Editor's note: This information is no longer up to date. Find more recent guidance on unemployment insurance benefits at https://blog.dol.gov/2021/01/11/unemployment-benefits-answering-common-questions.

Expanded unemployment insurance benefits are now available to millions of Americans who are out of work for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This includes people who are not ordinarily eligible, such as self-employed, independent contractor, and gig workers.

Here are answers to four frequently asked questions about how these benefits work:


How many weeks of regular unemployment insurance am I entitled to?

How many weeks you can receive benefits depends on state law. Find info on your state program here. It is important to file for benefits in the state where you last worked because doing so helps determine your eligibility for any additional federal benefits. However, before you can receive benefits, you must be found to be eligible based on the reasons you are unemployed. This analysis varies by state, so, again, it is important to file your claim in the state where you last worked.


Do I qualify for the additional $600 in federal benefits?

An additional $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits are available to everyone receiving state unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. The funds are available for any weeks beginning after the date the state enters into an agreement through the week ending July 31. You don’t need to apply separately for these benefits – if you're eligible, you will receive them through your state.


What happens after I exhaust my regular state benefits?

You may be eligible for additional benefits under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, available through Dec. 31. Approval is based on your regular state claim: If you were eligible for benefits from your state, you are also eligible for this extension through the CARES Act. You need to apply for them.

Some states may be able to provide an additional 13 or 20 weeks of extended benefits, based on the unemployment rate in that state, that will kick in next. If you were eligible for regular unemployment benefits, you may also be eligible for your state’s extended benefits.


What if I don’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits, or if I have exhausted the federal benefits?

You may be eligible for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) under the CARES Act available through Dec. 31. The amount you will receive is calculated by your state.

These benefits can last for a total of 39 weeks, which includes the number of weeks of regular benefits and extended benefits you’ve received from your state. For example: If you received 13 weeks of benefits from your state and the 13 additional weeks of federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, you may receive another 13 weeks under this program.

You may be covered if one of these reasons, among others, applies:

  • You or someone in your home was diagnosed with COVID-19, or have symptoms and are waiting to be diagnosed
  • You’re caring for a family member or someone in your home who has COVID-19
  • You’re caring for a child whose school or childcare is closed because of COVID-19
  • You’ve been quarantined by a government body or medical professional
  • You’ve lost your job or cannot reach your job because of COVID-19
  • You’ve become the main source of income for a household due to a death caused by COVID-19
  • You’ve quit your job because of COVID-19
  • Your workplace is closed because of COVID-19
  • You were scheduled to start a new job but could not because of COVID-19

Self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and people who have not worked long enough to qualify for the other types of unemployment assistance may still qualify for PUA if they meet one of the COVID-19 reasons above. States must first verify that these workers are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits.

Find more information about unemployment insurance generally here and more information about unemployment insurance relief during the COVID-19 outbreak here, including contact information for your state unemployment insurance office.


Gay Gilbert is the Administrator of the Office of Unemployment Insurance in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.