By Cynthia Rivera, J.D.
If you are unable to work due to COVID-19 and you are not eligible for aid under traditional state unemployment benefits, you may qualify for relief under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA).
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program was established under the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide coverage to workers who normally would not qualify for regular unemployment insurance benefits. Notably, the PUA provision expands coverage to certain workers who traditionally would not be eligible for unemployment benefits under state law, including individuals who are part-time workers, self-employed, independent contractors, freelancers, or those who have exhausted all rights to regular or extended unemployment benefits, among others.
PUA is also available to workers without sufficient work history to qualify for regular unemployment benefits and to those who otherwise do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits. This expanded access is particularly important for those who work in the gig economy and are normally ineligible for unemployment benefits.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program is available through December 31, 2020, and provides benefits of up to 39 weeks for COVID-19-related unemployment claims. Keep in mind that you may also be entitled to an additional $600 per week, through July 31, 2020, under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program.
Although PUA is federally funded, each state can set its own guidelines as long as they remain within federal rules. The New York Department of Labor announced on April 20, 2020, that applicants can use one form to obtain the appropriate benefits, and are no longer required to apply for regular unemployment benefits and be rejected before applying for PUA. However, this procedure is not applicable in all states. Applicants should therefore contact their state’s unemployment insurance benefits office to learn about applicable guidelines and requirements.
Under PUA, an applicant will typically file a claim directly with the state where they were employed. Claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online depending on the state. Claims may be delayed or denied if an application is incomplete or contains inaccurate information, so be sure to avoid omissions or incorrect information. Required information may include an employer’s address and your dates of employment. Applicants may also be required to provide their earnings history from the previous year, such as through 1099 tax forms, invoice statements, or proof of deposit to a bank account.
To be eligible for PUA in New York State you must be unable to work as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and belong to at least one of the following classes: self-employed, independent contractor, “gig worker,” farmer, diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVD-19 symptoms and are seeking a diagnosis, living with a household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, provide care for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19.
You can also qualify if you are the primary caregiver for a child unable to attend school or another facility due to COVID-19, unable to reach your place of employment due to an imposed quarantine or you were advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19.
Additionally, you may be eligible to receive PUA benefits if you are scheduled to commence new employment but cannot reach the workplace as a direct result of COVID-19, became a major breadwinner because the head of the household died from COVID-19, quit a job as a direct result of COVID-19, place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19, have insufficient work history and affected by COVID-19, otherwise not qualified for regular or extended unemployment benefits and affected by COVID-19.
Often, the best way to apply is online. However, you should confirm with your state as to its preferred application method. To apply in New York, visit unemployment.labor.ny.gov . The DOL will process your application and contact you if any additional information is needed. If you cannot apply online, you can apply via phone 1-888-209-8124.
Although prior to the pandemic individuals may not have qualified for certain unemployment benefits, keep in mind that the rules have changed and under the newly-created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, people who previously did not qualify for unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig workers, and part-time employees, may now qualify for federal aid.