The Department of Labor has expanded eligibility for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, and will allow those already unemployed to keep their benefits if they decline jobs due to COVID safety concerns. The changes are retroactive, so you could qualify for a nice lump sum by the end of March. This is what you need to know.
Created as part of the CARES Act, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is temporarily expanded unemployment insurance Eligibility for freelancers, freelancers, independent contractors and part-time workers affected by the pandemic. To qualify, you must declare under penalty of perjury that you are available for work and unemployed due to a COVID-related situation.
Following a directive from President Biden last month, the Department of Labor has clarified and expanded PUA eligibility for workers in the following scenarios:
- Workers who are already receiving unemployment benefits but are declining to work with a potential employer because they do not meet state or local COVID safety standards, such as social distancing, wearing face masks or personal protective equipment.
- Workers who have been laid off or have their hours reduced because their employer has closed or partially closed due to COVID.
- School workers without a contract who have no guarantee of continued payment when schools are closed due to the pandemic.
The benefits will be retroactive, and they will apply as if they had been included since the beginning of the PUA program. However, individuals who file their first PUA claim after December 27, 2020 are limited to weeks of unemployment beginning on December 6, 2020.
Considering that those who are unemployed receive a weekly federal top-up of $ 300 to their state benefits, which average approximately $ 320 per week, retroactive assistance could result in a large lump sum payment in late March (the Labor Department says it will take state agencies a few weeks to implement the changes). For first-time filers, the first payment would equal approximately four months of benefits.
“So far, many workers have faced a deal with the devil, risked contracting coronavirus or choose some level of security and live without financial assistance,” says Suzi Levine, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training. in an interview with Reuters.
How to apply
You will need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked (search by state here). Depending on the state, claims can be submitted in person, over the phone, or online.