This article was last updated on February 4
Congressional leaders and the President have now passed the $900 billion COVID relief stimulus package into law, under the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020 (CAA). The package includes funding for extending the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs to April 10th, 2021 and an 11-week extension (to March 14th 2021) for the original Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. The amount of the FPUC weekly payment however is being cut in half from the original $600 to $300.
Eligible claimants who certify under existing programs like regular state UI, PUA, PEUC or EB for the applicable weeks will get the 11-weeks of extra $300 FPUC unemployment The first few weeks of the $300 payments were delayed for various claimant groups as states slowly updated systems for all the program extensions. In particular, claimants who had exhausted their PUA or PEUC benefits needed to wait for their state to update UI programs to allow them to reopen or reactivate their underlying benefit claim. Any payments can then be retroactively caught up in subsequent weeks – however their may be some manual intervention required in certain cases as discussed below.
How Far Back Can I Claim the Retroactive Unemployment Benefits?
As discussed in this article, the new $300 FPUC payment for 2021 will only be retroactive to the start date of the new program coverage period (week of December 27th, 2020 to January 2nd, 2021) in the same manner as previous supplementary UI benefit programs. This means that back payments for the new $300 FPUC are not payable retroactively for any week prior to December 27th, 2020, even if you were getting PUA and PEUC for the last several months.
Similarly the eleven week extension payments to PUA and PEUC benefits are also not retroactive prior to December 27th, but claims can be back dated to December 1st, 2020 for eligible claimants. This was confirmed in recent DOL guidelines issued to state UI agencies on the enhanced unemployment program extensions.
Will I get Back Payments Automatically Applied or Manual Claim/Actions Required?
Once states are able to update their IT systems to pay the extended PEUC and PUA benefits (see this video for a discussion of the PUA mess and PEUC rollout challenges) they are automatically adding the 11-weeks to eligible claimant accounts. One the claimant claims or certifies for the relevant weeks they should get payment for current and past eligible weeks.
However due to the complexities, unique cases or system limitations some states area asking claimants to take manual actions to get back payments. For example in Pennsylvania (PA), claimants on PEUC are being requested to email the UC Help Desk for backdating for the weeks between January 2 through January 23, 2021. Similarly in IDES in IL is asking claimants to call their call center representatives to discuss backdating their claims
So essentially if you cannot claim your past weeks online or you have received a current/recent week payment but no back payments for prior eligible weeks or any official notification of delays, then you will likely have to take a manual action via your state UI agency to get your payment.
[September 2020 – Expired Programs] While the $600 FPUC program has now ended (see update below), with no formal extension in place due to a Congressional stalemate, it was been replaced by the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) unemployment benefits program. You can see this article for details on the now expired temporary LWA $300 weekly payment (some states are making a $400 payment) that President Trump approved in mid-August (using $44bn of FEMA funding) via executive order. Most states have made all payments under this program (full list here) including retroactive payments.
Based on reader comments its clear that some people are still getting or waiting for their $600 FPUC retroactive back payments. That is a different program to one paying the LWA benefits and back payments will continue to be made to eligible claimants. It has however expired for new or continuing claims as of August 1st, so if you lost your job after that time or were expecting the $600 then you would be out of luck. You need to leverage the LWA program and benefit for that.
So if you are still getting at least $100 of benefits under current and enhanced benefit programs (like PUA and PEUC) then you should continue to certify on weekly or bi-weekly basis to receive current and retroactive $300 weekly payments. Both the payments are being administered and paid by state unemployment agencies. So you would need to contact them if you are having issues with these payments. See below and comments section for helpful tips.
Update on $600 FPUC Retroactive Back Payments
All states and territories have now updated their unemployment systems to account for the extra $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payment to those eligible for regular unemployment insurance (UI). While the roll-out and payment of these benefits has been plagued by challenges with some states struggling a lot more than others, millions of Americans have now received their entire extra/stimulus unemployment benefits. As a reminder, the additional $600 weekly payment, including retroactive benefits should occur automatically (unless specified by state unemployment site) for anybody eligible for any amount of state unemployment benefits — even as little as $1. The payments, including retroactive or backdated payments for eligible weeks a claimant has certified, will continue through the end of year, even the program ended for new claimants at the end of July.
The good news is that even though payments have started later the planned, they will be retroactive to when states signed up to receive the federal boost for their unemployment programs. This is generally for the week ending 4/3 in most states. So if you were eligible to receive unemployment compensation from that week then you would be eligible to receive payments from that date. The table below shows when states started making the $600 FPUC payment and when the payments were retroactive to.
Unfortunately many readers have noted issues with these retroactive payments whereby they have not received them at all, even though they had gotten their first $600 payment per state schedules. So while many were expecting a large first payment worth thousands, they ended up getting just their base $600 payment. And when they contact their local state unemployment agencies they cannot get a clear answer and are told just to wait while they clear back logs of new claimants. See more reasons why your $600 payment stopped or was delayed.
Given the delays in getting paid your unemployment checks, many jobless workers may be worried that they could be missing out on payments for the extra weeks they were unemployed. The good is that individuals still waiting on a decision regarding their unemployment eligibility will receive all back weeks of FPUC due to them, even if that decision is made after the end of the current FPUC program in July. They may need to go back and certify for weeks they were eligible (which will vary by state), but they will eventually be made whole for unemployment payments they qualify for.
Backdated Payments with PUA claims
Several readers have asked if the $600 payment will be back dated for those who become eligible for state unemployment benefits under the PUA program. While this is subject to the different timelines of the PUA and FPUC programs, generally speaking if you qualified for the PUA program between early April and the end of July, you would be eligible for FPUC benefits per the dates shown below. This includes backdated payments for weeks you were eligible. In most states backdated PUA and FPUC payments will be paid in one lump-sum one to two weeks after you receive your first payment of eligible state UI benefits.
How to File for Unemployment Benefits Back Payments
Many of the recent comments in this article reflect the challenges with actually being able to claim unemployment back payments for eligible weeks. In particular getting through a live agent or getting a response from your local state agency has been a challenge – which has often meant stress and panic around the status of your unemployment check, and if you will even be getting paid one for current or past weeks.
While it varies by state, the following are the key ways to file and get your retroactive unemployment payments:
- To claim past weeks or correct dates you will generally have to contact your state UI agency and get them to retroactively certify you for past week. Getting an agent is a challenge, so may agencies are offering secure message as a way to lodge your claim. New York is doing this extensively and people have reported this is more effective than trying to get through to someone.
- States like Florida have actually setup dedicated phone lines and options (e.g choosing Option 5) to modify the date of unemployment claims or to certify for past weeks. In California, there is a dedicated site to certify for past weeks to confirm your eligibility (retroactive certification).
- Some states like PA are trying to do more of this online through their unemployment portals/dashboards, and actually are recommending claimants experiencing any errors or issues email (rather than call) their state agency. But response times are still expected to be several days.
Your determination for benefits ad back payments (including under the PUA program) will generally be mailed to you or available on your state agencies online unemployment account or dashboard. This is probably the most up to date place and once approved payments will be made in one lump sum either via direct deposit or debit card
Is my State Processing Unemployment back payments?
The answer is yes. All state UI agencies and departments are processing claims and will backdate your claim to when you first became unemployed, as reported by you when you enter your last day of work. You will need to generally contact them to update your unemployment date if incorrect so that they can correctly pay retroactive benefits. However states like Florida, North Dakota, Arizona and Ohio are still well behind making these retroactive payments due to IT system issues around certifying eligibility for past weeks and taking initial claims for new worker groups (e.g freelancers) eligible for unemployment and the extra $600 under PUA provisions.