COVID-19: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance FAQs

The below are questions and answers for self-employed persons, bona fide independent contractors, and others who are disqualified from receiving UI for COVID-19-related reasons.  These individuals may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program under the CARES Act.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I SHOULD APPLY FOR “REGULAR” UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION (UC) OR FOR PUA?

You should file for regular UC if you have an employer AND:

  • You have been laid off; or
  • Your hours have been reduced through no fault of your own; or
  • You cannot work because a medical or public official has directed you to quarantine or self-isolate because of COVID-19 exposure, symptoms, or a positive diagnosis.

You should file for PUA if you are ineligible for regular UC and because you have lost income due to COVID-19 AND:

  • You are self-employed and have not earned any wages from any employer in the last 18 months; or
  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis; or
  • You are caring for a household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
  • You are the primary caretaker of a child or other individual that is unable to attend school or other facility that is closed as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • You lack sufficient work history;
  • You have exhausted all rights to regular UC or extended benefits;
  • You were denied regular UC on the basis that you did not have enough wages or wages in two calendar years quarters; or
  • You are a bona fide independent contractor that has not earned any wages from any employer in the last 18 months.

HOW CAN I DETERMINE MY ELIGIBILITY FOR PUA?

You may be eligible for PUA if you are self-employed, do not have sufficient work history to qualify for regular UC, or have exhausted your rights to regular UC benefits or extended benefits.

Individuals must provide “self-certification” that they are otherwise able and available to work, but are prevented from doing so by one of the following circumstances relating to COVID-19:

  • The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19; or
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
  • The individual is providing care to a household or family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
  • A child or other person for whom the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility as a result of COVID-19; or
  • 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; or
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine; or
  • The individual is self-employed, an independent contractor, or a gig worker, and COVID-19 has severely limited the individual’s ability to perform normal work; or
  • The individual was scheduled to start work and does not have a job or cannot reach the job as a result of COVID; or
  • The individual’s place of employment is closed because of COVID-19; or
  • The individual has quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19.

WHAT WEEKS WILL PUA COVER?

The first payable week of PUA is for the week ending 02/08/20 and last payable week is the week ending 12/26/20.

WHAT IS THE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF WEEKS FOR WHICH AN INDIVIDUAL QUALIFYING FOR PUA CAN RECEIVE BENEFITS?

An individual can receive benefits for a maximum of 39 weeks, including regular UC and Federal-State Extended Unemployment Compensation (EB).

CAN I APPLY FOR BOTH REGULAR UC AND PUA AT THE SAME TIME?

No, individuals cannot have pending applications in both programs at the same time.

MY HOURS HAVE BEEN REDUCED.  CAN I COLLECT BENEFITS UNDER PUA?

If you are working fewer hours due to COVID-19 resulting in a loss in income, and you are ineligible for regular UC, you may be eligible for PUA, provided your weekly income is less than your established PUA.

I AM SELF-EMPLOYED AND MY INCOME AND HOURS HAVE DECLINED GREATLY BECAUSE OF COVID-19.  AM I ELIGIBLE FOR PUA?

Self-employed individuals, independent contractors, or gig workers who have had to suspend their work because of COVID-19, or had a significant reduction in work, may be eligible for PUA.  In cases where an individual has partial earnings, these earnings must be reported, and their weekly benefit amount may be reduced, provided that the individual’s weekly income is less than the individual’s established PUA weekly benefit amount.

I AM A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER.  AM I ELIGIBLE FOR PUA?

You may be eligible for PUA if your primary source of income is from work you do for your own business or on your own farm.

I HAVE NEVER WORKED BEFORE.  AM I ELIGIBLE FOR PUA?

You may be eligible for PUA even if you have never worked before AND:

  • You were scheduled to commerce employment and do not have a job or are unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
  • Your job offer was rescinded because of COVID-19; or
  • You have become the breadwinner or major supporter for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.

IF I AM ELIGIBLE FOR (OR CURRENTLY RECEIVING) REGULAR UC, SHOULD I APPLY FOR PUA?

No, PUA benefits are not payable to individuals who are eligible for regular UC.

IF I HAVE ALREADY APPLIED FOR REGULAR UC, SHOULD I ALSO APPLY FOR PUA?

No, you should not apply for PUA because if you have a pending application for regular UC.  If you have applied for and did not qualify or were denied regular UC, then you should apply for PUA if you are out of work due to COVID-19.

If you are eligible for or receiving regular UC, you may neither apply for nor will be eligible for PUA.

I APPLIED FOR REGULAR UC, BUT I HAVE NOT RECEIVED A DECISION REGARDING WHETHER I AM ELIGIBLE.  CAN I WITHDRAW MY REGULAR UC APPLICATION, AND APPLY FOR PUA?

No, you cannot withdraw a regular UC application in order to file for PUA.  You must wait until you have been denied regular UC benefits before you can apply for PUA.

If your claim for regular UC is approved, you must exhaust all of those benefits, including extensions before you can apply for PUA.

I WAS SELF-EMPLOYED OR A GIG WORKER, AND DID NOT RECEIVE A REGULAR PAYCHECK.  HOW DO I CALCULATE MY INCOME FOR PURPOSES OF COMPLETING THE PUA APPLICATION?

Individuals may use a variety of documents to calculate their income, including W-2s, 1099s, tax returns, pay stubs, bank receipts, and billing notices.  Individuals should retain all documents establishing income for verification purposes.

MY EMPLOYER SAID THAT I AM AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR.  CAN I FILE FOR PUA?

If your employer treated you as an independent contractor, but you statutorily meet the definition of a covered worker, then you cannot file for PUA.  The DLIR will review your regular UC claim and make a determination, which is done on a case by case basis, and determine if you are eligible to receive regular UC benefits.

I RECENTLY EXHAUSTED MY REGULAR UC.  WHAT SHOULD I DO?

You may apply for PUA.  Individuals who have exhausted their right to regular UC may apply for PUA.

The CARES Act authorized an extension of regular UC for individuals who have exhausted regular UC as far back as July 1, 2019.  This program, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), provides up to 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits to individuals who have exhausted their previous regular UC.  The DLIR is currently updating its online system, and PEUC will be available soon.

If you have already exhausted your regular UC, and apply and get approved for PUA now, you will receive information on transferring to PEUC as soon as it is available.

IN ADDITION TO MY FULL-TIME JOB WHERE I EARNED MOST OF MY INCOME IN 2019, I OWNED A BUSINESS THAT HAS SHUT DOWN DUE TO A COVID-19-RELATED REASON.  AM I CONSIDERED SELF-EMPLOYED FOR PURPOSES OF PUA?

No, federal guidelines provide that an individual is considered “self-employed” for purposes of PUA only where their primary reliance for income is on the performance of services in the individual’s own business, or on the individual’s own farm.  Any individual that earned more than $130 in 2019 working for an employer who took taxes out of their paycheck is not eligible for PUA, but may be eligible for regular UC.

WHAT IF I EARNED MUCH MORE IN 2019 FROM SELF-EMPLOYMENT THAN I DID FROM MY W-2 JOB?  CAN I CHOOSE TO APPLY FOR PUA IF I THINK MY BENEFIT AMOUNT WILL BE HIGHER?

No, you must first apply for regular UC, if you earned more than $120 in calendar year 2019 from an employer (or employers) who took taxes out of your paycheck.

WHAT IF MY EMPLOYER REMAINS OPEN, BUT I AM ON PAID LEAVE.  SHOULD I FILE FOR PUA INSTEAD?

No, if you have receiving paid sick leave or other benefits, you are not eligible for PUA.  If you exhaust your paid leave for a COVID-19-related reason, but are unable to return to work, you may be eligible for regular UC or PUA at that time.  View the PUA eligibility requirements under  “HOW CAN I DETERMINE MY ELIGIBILITY FOR PUA?”

I HAVE NOT YET FILED MY 2019 TAX RETURN BECAUSE THE DEADLINE WAS EXTENDED.  WHAT INFORMATION CAN I USE TO CALCULATE MY INCOME FOR 2019?

Individuals may use a variety of documents to calculate their income, including W-2s, 1099s, pay subs, bank receipts, and billing notices.  Individuals should retain all documents establishing income for verification purposes.

IF I COULDN’T FILE A CLAIM YET, HOW WILL I RECEIVE PAYMENT FOR PRIOR WEEKS?

You will need to supply information regarding when the period of COVID-19-related unemployment began.  Any retroactive weeks in which you meet the eligibility requirements beginning with the week ending 04/04/20 will include the additional $600 under the Federal Pandemic Emergency Compensation (FPUC) program.

HOW MUCH WILL I RECEIVE IN BENEFITS?

The minimum amount of weekly assistance an individual may receive is $263, and the maximum amount is $648.

All individuals collecting PUA will also receive an additional $600 per week from the FPUC program.  Individuals will be eligible for FPUC payments for the weeks ending 04/04/20 through 07/25/20.

IF I DO NOT PROVIDE ACCURATE INFORMATION ON MY APPLICATION, WILL I HAVE TO REPAY BENEFITS?

Yes.  As with any regular UC claim, you are required to provide accurate information or face penalties, including the denial of benefits and repayment of benefits.  If you knowingly provide inaccurate information or fail to disclose required information, you could be subject to criminal prosecution.

WILL I HAVE TO PAY FEDERAL AND STATE TAXES ON BENEFITS RECEIVED?

Yes, all PUA and FPUC benefits are taxable for federal and state purposes.

UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES WILL I NOT QUALIFY FOR PUA?

Individuals who are able to telework with pay and individuals receiving paid sick or other leave will not qualify for PUA.  Individuals receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits for less than their customary work week, however, may still be eligible for PUA.

REFERENCES:

Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 16-20