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New COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits: Answering Common Questions

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In March 2020, the president signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided Americans with new and expanded unemployment insurance (UI) benefits if they’re out of work for reasons related to the pandemic. These benefits were recently updated and extended when the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020 (Continued Assistance Act) was signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 27, 2020. The Continued Assistance Act also included a one-time $600 stimulus payment for qualified individuals; however, that payment is not an unemployment benefit and is administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Here are answers to questions about the unemployment insurance benefits in the new law.

 

How does the Continued Assistance Act affect unemployment benefits?

Unemployment Insurance Changes at a Glance

 

CARES Act

Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) Supplemental amount added to unemployment benefits

$600/week.

Expired July 31, 2020

$300/week.

Expires March 14, 2021

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

PUA covers individuals who are not eligible for/exhausted other UI benefits, including self-employed workers, gig workers, independent contractors

Expired Dec. 31, 2020

Expires March 14, 2021

How long can eligible individuals receive PUA?

Up to 39 weeks*

Up to 50 weeks*

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits (PEUC)

Expired Dec. 31, 2020

Expires March 14, 2021

How long can eligible individuals receive PEUC?

13 weeks

24 weeks

* minus the weeks you received regular unemployment benefits and extended benefits

If you are receiving unemployment benefits [state or federal regular unemployment compensation, including Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE), Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Servicemembers (UCX), PEUC, PUA, Extended Benefits (EB), Short-Time Compensation (STC), Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA), Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), or the Self-Employment Assistance Program (SEA)], you will receive an additional $300 per week as a supplemental amount to unemployment benefits for weeks of unemployment ending by March 14, 2021.

PUA still applies to self-employed workers, gig workers, independent contractors, and other people who don’t usually qualify for unemployment insurance. The PUA program is extended to March 14, 2021. If you receive PUA during the week ending March 14, 2021, have not exhausted all rights to PUA, and are otherwise eligible for PUA benefits, there is a transition period through weeks of unemployment that begin no later than April 5, 2021, for which PUA benefits are payable. No PUA is payable for any week of unemployment beginning after April 5, 2021. In addition, the maximum PUA eligibility has been extended from 39 weeks to 50 weeks (minus the weeks the individual received regular unemployment benefits and Extended Benefits).

Similarly, the PEUC program is extended to March 14, 2021. If you receive PEUC during the week ending March 14, 2021, have not exhausted all rights to PEUC, and are otherwise eligible for PEUC, there is a transition period through weeks of unemployment that begin no later than April 5, 2021, for which PEUC benefits are payable. No PEUC is payable for any week of unemployment beginning after April 5, 2021. In addition, the length of time an eligible individual can receive PEUC has been extended from 13 weeks to 24 weeks.

Note that individuals in states where the Extended Benefits program is available may receive up to 13 weeks of benefits — or up to 20 weeks of benefits if the state is in a high unemployment period — through the EB program. Contact your state unemployment insurance agency for more information.

 

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

The amount and duration of benefits you can receive also depends on the law in the state where you last worked. The state will determine your eligibility for any additional federal benefits. Contact your state unemployment insurance agency for more information.

 

Do I qualify for the additional $300 in federal benefits?

The additional $300/week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation is available to claimants receiving unemployment benefits under the state or federal regular unemployment compensation programs (UCFE, UCX, PEUC, PUA, EB, STC, TRA, DUA, and SEA). The funds are available for any weeks of unemployment beginning after Dec. 26, 2020, and ending on or before March 14, 2021. You don’t need to apply separately to receive this supplemental amount.

 

Are self-employed, independent contractor and gig workers eligible for assistance?

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 are otherwise able to work and available for work within the meaning of the applicable state law and certify that they are unemployed, partially unemployed or unable or unavailable to work for one of the following COVID-19 reasons:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or have symptoms, and are seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You are caring for a family member of a member of your household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • A child or other person in your household for whom you have primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of COVID-19 and the school or facility care is required for you to work.
  • You cannot reach your job because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • You cannot reach your job because you have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
  • You were scheduled to start a new job and do not have a job or are unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • You’ve become the main source of income for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • Your workplace is closed as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • You are self-employed, have reportable income and have experienced a significant diminution of services because of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

States must first verify that these workers are not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or Extended Benefits under state or federal law or PEUC. Beginning on Jan. 26, 2021, states must also implement stricter identification verification measures for PUA applicants. Applicants will also be required to provide documentation substantiating employment or self-employment.

 

What can I do if somebody filed a fraudulent claim using my information?

Contact our Office of Inspector General to report claimant or employer fraud involving unemployment insurance:

Online: www.oig.dol.gov/hotline.htm

Phone: 1-800-347-3756

You can also contact the fraud office for the state where the claim was filed. Check this list to find contact information for your state unemployment insurance fraud office.

 

Can you help if my state office won’t answer the phone or hasn’t sent my money?

We recognize that a high volume of pandemic-related calls has overwhelmed some states’ call centers and websites, leading to delays. However, the federal government has no authority to intervene in individual claims for benefits, so you should contact the state unemployment insurance office handling your claim. You can locate state office information at www.dol.gov/uicontacts.

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

 

Jim Garner is the acting administrator of the Office of Unemployment Insurance in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

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