What Should You Expect in the Coming Weeks If You Are Unemployed?

This is a truly frightening time for the many millions of people across the country who are unemployed. Here is a quick guide to three key things unemployed workers need to know right now.

1. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) overpayment notices

If you have received a PUA overpayment notice, you are not alone. A growing number of states are stepping up their efforts to resolve overpayment issues. This is going to be a huge number of people because as states rushed to get PUA benefits out the door, they may have made mistakes. And new applicants may have clicked a button incorrectly or made a mistake somewhere as well. Federal guidance changed three times, and states have gotten guidance from both the U.S. Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration and the U.S. Office of Inspector General that they need to alter how they have been administering the program.

If you get an overpayment notice, it might be for tens of thousands of dollars because it has taken states some time to respond to mistakes. Do not panic. If you believe this notice is in error, you have the right to appeal. Unlike Disaster Unemployment Assistance, which PUA is based on, you’ll need to follow state, not federal, appeal rules. Unfortunately, states currently are not allowed to forgive PUA overpayments. Unlike for most other unemployment benefits, states cannot waive recovery of PUA overpayments. However, we are hoping that legislation moving through Congress may fix that. If you have specific legal questions concerning an overpayment notice, you may qualify for legal assistance from your local legal services agency.

2. Pandemic unemployment programs ending

If you are receiving benefits through PUA or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), those benefits are scheduled to end December 26, 2020. Even if Congress were to act today, at the very least these programs will lapse for a time in your state because of the difficulties in programming new benefits into the computer system. As an unemployed worker, you have likely faced far too many delays in receiving benefits by now.

If your benefits stop on December 26 and Congress passes an extension of the programs, it may well be the case that there is a programming lag and you will get restored benefits, albeit in a delayed manner. As we know, longstanding neglect of state administrative systems has meant that no state programs have all of the resources and technology they need to add programs instantly. Similarly, if Extended Benefits (EB) have triggered off in your state or you have exhausted benefits, there is a chance that Congressional legislation will add weeks of eligibility. The good news for people on EB may be that if they are not triggered off, you could see a continuation of those benefits without interruption.

Although Congress let the $600 weekly unemployment supplement (known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC) expire at the end of July, new legislation may restore it—albeit current negotiations have it at $300 instead of $600. Earlier this year, we learned that it could take states a couple of weeks to restart FPUC weekly supplements. We also found out that programming additional weeks has proven to be difficult throughout the pandemic and historically, so getting base benefit eligibility up and running may be the tricky part.

The takeaway is that, if Congress extends CARES Act benefits, you may have to wait through part of January to get access to benefits that stopped at the end of December. And again, if Congress passes relief, it has historically been structured so that your benefits are restored beginning the date of enactment. So there shouldn’t be a gap in your eligibility if that happens, just a gap in when you get paid.

3. What do we do if benefits are extended?

Do not stop asking why your benefits were delayed or why they have been so small the past few months. Come together with your neighbors, your union, worker centers, state and local organizing groups, groups organizing unemployed workers like Center For Popular Democracy, Unemployed Action, Unemployed Workers United, Moms Rising, ExtendPUA, and other groups bringing unemployed workers together to fight for a better system for the future. Only when we all believe we can unite for better systems can we craft long-term unemployment reforms to ensure that the hardships you’ve experienced in 2020 will not happen to you and other workers in the future.

Get Legal Advice If You Need It

It’s important to emphasize this again: If you have specific legal questions concerning an overpayment notice or any other unemployment-related issue, please contact legal services or an attorney with unemployment compensation expertise in your state.

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About the Author

Michele Evermore

Senior Policy Analyst, National Employment Law Project

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