Frequently Asked Questions about UI benefits – The Basics

 

  1.  1. What was the program that was created through the presidential memorandum and how does it impact my UI benefits?

Before the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) expired at the end of July, FPUC provided workers with an extra $600/week on top of their regular state UI benefits or PUA benefits.
 
While the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in May 2020 that would have extended the benefit, the U.S. Senate did not pass legislation to save the extra $600 before it expired the end of July.
President Trump instead issued a presidential memorandum creating the Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) program.
 
The LWA uses a limited pool of FEMA funds (normally reserved for disasters) to provide an additional $300/week in benefits to some unemployed workers for a limited number of weeks. Depending on the state where you receive UI benefits, you could receive LWA benefits covering anywhere from 3 -6 weeks of unemployment.
For workers whose UI benefits or PUA benefits are less than $100/week, you will not receive LWA, so you will only receive your regular UI or PUA benefit amount. Many states are still in the process of making LWA payments.
 
Check with your state UI agency for more information.

Return to FAQs

  1. What is Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Unemployment Insurance, also called UI, is a benefit that people earn while they are working. It is designed to be paid out to unemployed workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. UI provides jobless workers with income to replace part of their wages.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

A federal law passed in March 2020 called the CARES Act created an emergency unemployment benefits program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA provides income to unemployed workers who are NOT eligible for regular state UI or who have run out of their state UI benefits. This includes people who are self-employed (such as independent contractors and freelancers), as well as people whose irregular or insufficient work histories don’t qualify them for regular state UI benefits.

Return to FAQs

  1. What’s the difference between UI and PUA?

While UI and PUA both offer financial assistance to workers who are out of work or have less work, PUA has specific restrictions that may limit its benefits and coverage (for example, your unemployment must be a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic). Also, the PUA program is time-limited to the end of the calendar year. Regular state UI doesn’t have these restrictions.

It’s possible that PUA could pay out higher benefit amounts because the minimum PUA benefit in a state is higher than the minimum benefit for regular state UI.

App-based gig workers may be require to “suspend operations” as a result of COVID-19 in order to qualify for PUA.

Return to FAQs

  1.  What are the new unemployment assistance programs created in response to the coronavirus pandemic?

 

The CARES Act, which became federal law on March 27, 2020, created three new unemployment programs:

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)—Provides unemployment compensation to workers who have typically been found ineligible for UI benefits (e.g., self-employed workers, independent contractors)

 

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)—An additional $600 per week, on top of regular state UI benefits and PUA benefits. All UI recipients and PUA recipients will receive this extra $600 per week.  This benefit was provided by the federal government, up until July 25th for most people. At this time, this benefit has expired. Expiration of this benefit should not impact your eligibility to continuing receiving your regular state UI benefits or PUA benefits.  To see more information about the status of FPUC, refer back to Question #1.

 

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)—An additional 13 weeks of UI benefits, beyond the regular 26 weeks that most states provide, for a total of 39 weeks of coverage.

Return to FAQs

  1. Am I eligible for UI or PUA benefits?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

UI rules are different, depending on what state you work in. In most states, you must meet certain requirements, such as earning a minimum amount of money in a year, working a minimum amount of time in the last 12 to 15 months, having an acceptable reason for losing your job, and being available to work. We recommend you apply and let the state UI agency go through the process of determining your eligibility.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Workers who don’t qualify for regular state UI may be eligible to receive benefits under the PUA program. You may be eligible for PUA if you are self-employed, an independent contractor, freelancer, worker seeking part-time work, or a worker who does not have a long-enough work history to qualify for state UI benefits.

To receive PUA, you will have to show that you are unemployed, your hours have been reduced, you are unable to work, or you are unavailable to work because of one of the following circumstances:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and are seeking diagnosis;
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • You are providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • You are providing care for a child or other household member who can’t attend school or work because it is closed due to COVID-19;
  • You are quarantined or have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
  • You were scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or cannot reach your place of employment as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak;
  • You have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • You had to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • You meet other criteria established by the Secretary of Labor.

Return to FAQs

  1. Can I get UI or PUA benefits if I’m an independent contractor? And how do I know if I’m an employee or an independent contractor?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Independent contractors are traditionally not eligible for UI. Employees are eligible for UI.

If you have a Form W-2, you are an employee. If you have a Form 1099, you likely are an independent contractor—but not necessarily. Many employers intentionally misclassify their workers as independent contractors to avoid paying payroll taxes. In that case, you may be considered an employee under the law and eligible for UI.

Even if you do not have a Form W-2, the agency can decide on your employment relationship based on several factors. Those factors differ from state to state, but can include how much supervision your employer has over your work and the type of work you do.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Independent contractors and self-employed workers may qualify for PUA due to being out of work as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. App-based or “gig” workers, who are often misclassified as independent contractors, are being directed by different states either to apply for UI (as an employee eligible for regular compensation) or for PUA.

Return to FAQs

  1. What if I’m still employed, but my hours and/or pay have been cut? Am I eligible for UI or PUA?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

It depends on what state you are in, but you may be able to get UI even if your hours have been reduced and you are still working. If your hours or pay have been cut or you have been forced to take a part-time position and you can’t get additional work, you may be eligible for what’s called “partial” UI. Typically, the state where you are applying for UI will “disregard” some of your earnings from your UI check and limit how much you can earn while collecting UI. After that disregard, your UI benefit amount is reduced by however much of your former income you earned. If you earned more than the allowed limit for people collecting partial UI, you will not be eligible for a UI check for that particular week.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

You may be eligible for PUA benefits even if you are still working, but it depends on the state where you are employed. If your hours or pay have been cut or you have been forced to take a part-time position and you can’t get additional work, you may be eligible for what’s called “partial” PUA.

You will still need to show that your hours or pay have been reduced for one of the COVID-19 related reasons.

Return to FAQs

  1. What if I was fired from my job? Am I eligible for UI or PUA?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own should be eligible for UI. Depending on your state’s rules, this usually means UI is available to workers who lose their jobs due to a layoff, business closing, reduction in workforce, or other economic reasons. If your employer wants to challenge your application for UI benefits after you have been fired, they will have to prove that you were fired for “willful misconduct.”

Generally, willful misconduct means something that a worker does or does not do that may affect the employer’s business interest in a negative way. Misconduct is different from poor job performance. Some examples of misconduct are repeatedly not showing up to work without notice; constantly being late; intoxication on job; insubordination; dishonesty; or conduct in violation of criminal law. It really depends on how the state where you work defines misconduct.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

As long as you are not working because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is not as important whether you were actually fired, laid off, or furloughed. Many people are being told by their employers that they will be called back to work, but there is no guarantee of that. The important factor in determining your eligibility for PUA is that you are not working for reasons directly related to COVID-19 as described in Question 4.

Return to FAQs

  1. What if I quit my job? Can I get UI or PUA?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

You should apply for UI to see if you are eligible. States may say you can’t get UI if you leave work voluntarily and without a good reason. If you quit for a good reason or what’s called “good cause” as defined by your state’s UI laws, you may be able to receive UI.

Here are some examples of good cause to quit: employer makes false accusations of the employee; employer unfairly reduces wages or fails to pay wages on time; employer discriminates against its employees; employee faces constant harassment by co-workers or employer; employee quits to care for a seriously ill family member; to relocate to spouse’s new job; to escape domestic violence; to accept a better-paying job; to leave part-time employment to accept full-time employment; and loss of public transportation relied on to get to work.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

You may be eligible for PUA if you quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19. The state UI agency will have to decide if you faced a credible health concern that made you quit your job or had caregiving responsibilities that qualify you for PUA.

In general, you may be eligible for PUA due to concerns about coronavirus exposure only if you have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine because of such concerns. For example, you may be eligible for PUA if your immune system is compromised because of a serious health condition, and your healthcare provider advises you to self-quarantine to avoid the serious health risks of COVID-19.

Another example where you may be eligible for PUA is if you were diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and although you no longer have COVID-19, the illness caused health complications that make you unable to perform your job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

In both examples, you will need some written proof, such as a note from a doctor or healthcare provider who is qualified to determine if your health will be seriously affected by coronavirus exposure.

It’s important to know that the federal government has stated that voluntarily quitting your job out of a general concern about exposure to COVID-19 does NOT make you eligible for PUA.

Return to FAQs

  1. I am an immigrant worker and have lost my job. Am I eligible for UI or PUA?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

To be eligible for regular state UI, immigrant workers must satisfy the same basic requirements as other workers. First, they must be unemployed “through no fault of their own.” Second, they must have earned enough wages or worked enough hours in their “base period” to submit a UI claim. Third, they must be “able and available” to work.

The general rule is that workers must have valid work authorization during the period they were working, at the time that they apply for UI, and throughout the period during which they are receiving UI.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

It is still unclear whether stricter requirements might apply to federal unemployment insurance under PUA.

Under the current state and federal systems, undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits. For more information, see NELP’s fact sheet: Immigrant Workers’ Eligibility for Unemployment Insurance.

Return to FAQs

  1. Will I continue to receive UI or PUA benefits after the first payment? Do I need to do anything else after I submit my claim for UI or PUA benefits?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

After you are approved for UI and start receiving payments, you must continue to meet eligibility requirements on a week-to-week basis or your benefits may end.

You may have to meet work search requirements to continue receiving UI, which may include that you be physically able to work, ready and willing to accept a job, and actively searching for a job each week that you are claiming benefits. However, in many cases, it is not enough to simply say that you meet all of these requirements. Most states require that you maintain a job search log in order to verify that you are actively seeking work.

During the coronavirus pandemic, you still must certify on a weekly basis that you remain eligible for UI benefits. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, some states have waived the work search requirements. See your state’s UI website for more information about the work search requirements that your state may have waived.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

If you are receiving PUA benefits, you may be required to follow up with the UI agency after you first apply in order to continue receiving benefits. Depending on the state, you may be required to submit additional documents about your employment and earnings, which may include submitting a tax return or pay stubs if you have them.

Return to FAQs

  1. How long can I receive UI or PUA benefits?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

In many states, you can receive regular UI benefits for up to 26 weeks (about 6 months). The following states provide less than 26 weeks of regular UI benefits: Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress created a new program called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) that provides an additional 13 weeks of UI benefits to workers who run out of regular state UI benefits. Also, workers in many states will qualify for an extra 13 weeks of benefits on top of PEUC as part of another program called Extended Benefits (EB). So, you may be able to receive 39 weeks of UI benefits in most states and up to 52 weeks in states where EB is available. To find out how many weeks of benefits are available in your state, click here.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

You may be able to receive PUA benefits for up to 39 weeks (about 9 months) through the end of 2020.

Return to FAQs

  1. How much will I receive in UI or PUA benefits?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

The maximum UI benefit amount you can receive will vary by state. Each state has different maximum and minimum benefit amounts and determines payments differently. In general, your UI payment amount will be based on the amount of your wages before you lost your job. More specifically, the UI agency will consider your unemployment “base period.” A base period usually includes the first four of the last five calendar quarters that occurred before you filed for UI. If you qualify for UI, the agency will look at the wages you earned during four of those last five quarters to decide how much your benefits will be. If you earned enough wages during four of the last five quarters, your unemployment amount will be based mostly on the highest-earning quarter in your base period. The more money you earned, the higher your weekly benefits.

In addition, all workers who receive regular UI will receive an extra $600 per week until July 31, 2020.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

If you receive PUA benefits, you will receive the same weekly benefits that you would have received if you had qualified for regular UI. The calculation of your weekly benefits amount will follow the process in Question 9. Under Frequently Asked Questions about UI: The Basics.

At a minimum, your PUA benefits have to be equal to one-half of the average weekly-benefit amount in your state. Your benefits shouldn’t be lower than that amount.

In addition, all workers who receive PUA will receive an extra $600/week in income until July 31, 2020 as explained in Question 3.

Return to FAQs

  1. How do I apply for UI or PUA benefits?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

In most states, UI claim-filing is by phone or online. Here is some information that you should have when filing an initial claim: Social Security number; complete mailing address with zip code; telephone number; and, for each employer over the last 18 months, (1) employer’s name and address; (2) last day of work with each employer; and (3) reason for separation from most recent employer.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Because it is a new program, it took most states several weeks to start taking applications for PUA. The application process varies from state to state. In some states, you will have to fill out the same application used for regular state UI. In other states, there are special applications provided online or by mail that are required to file for PUA. In order to find out how to apply for PUA in your state, visit your state’s UI agency’s website.

Return to FAQs

  1. How long will it take to receive my UI or PUA benefits?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Normally, it takes about 2 to 3 weeks to receive your unemployment benefits, but it may take much longer depending on the state where you work and the circumstances surrounding your claim for benefits. For example, if your wages are not in the state’s system, it may take longer. Some states require a one-week waiting period; in other words, you would receive your first payment for the second week of your unemployment claim. If the waiting week has been waived in your state, then you will receive your first payment for the first week of your unemployment claim.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

After you file for PUA, most states are requiring some follow-up information to verify the reason why you left work and your 2019 earnings. In these states, it can take several weeks (or more) before you start receiving PUA benefits plus the extra $600 a week. Other states are issuing the first check right away (paying the minimum amount, plus the additional $600 a week), and then following-up afterwards to collect the additional information. When the state agency receives the additional information from you, these states will calculate the correct amount of PUA your are entitled to receive and add to the weekly payments if necessary.  While it can take a long time to receive the PUA payment in many states, the law requires the state UI agency to pay you the full amount you were entitled to from the date that you were unemployed (as far back as the first week of April).

Return to FAQs

  1. How will I receive my UI or PUA benefits?

UI or PUA benefits are typically paid by a check mailed to you or funds placed onto a debit card that is provided to you. You do not need a bank account in order to receive UI or PUA benefits. If you have a bank account, direct deposit may be the preferred method for you, because it avoids fees associated with receiving your UI or PUA benefits by prepaid card.

Return to FAQs

  1. If I am called back to work that is unsafe because of COVID-19, can I refuse to work and continue to collect UI or PUA benefits?

If you refuse to return to your same job after being called back to work by your employer, normally you would not be allowed to continue receiving UI or PUA because you must accept work that is considered “suitable” by the state unemployment agency. But if your employer has not taken the necessary health and safety precautions to protect you and your co-workers against COVID-19, or if you are an older worker or someone who is immunocompromised (for example, you have diabetes, heart disease, or asthma), you may be able to refuse the offer to return to work and continue to receive UI or PUA.

The state unemployment agency will make the final decision, and it will take into account whether you first contacted the employer to explain your concerns and made a reasonable effort to address the situation with the employer. For more information about the safety precautions that employers should be taking to protect workers against COVID-19, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 workplace guidelines.

Return to FAQs

  1.  I filed for UI or PUA but was denied. What can I do?

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

If your application for UI benefits was denied or you were rejected from the UI system while applying, especially if you earned any W-2 wages, you should file an appeal. Check with your state agency for more information.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

If your application for PUA benefits was denied or you were rejected from the system while applying, especially if you earned any 1099 wages, you should file an appeal

Check with your state agency for more information. PUA covers far more workers than regular state UI.

If you are still rejected, file an appeal. That information should be available on your state website, and it is your right to appeal whether you are informed of that right or not.

Return to FAQs

FAQs that will be updated with policy changes regarding working during the pandemic with an arrest and/or conviction record.

Back to Top of Page