The PUA program provides up to 39 weeks of benefits, which are available retroactively starting with weeks of unemployment beginning on or after January 27, 2020, and ending on or before December 31, 2020. To qualify for PUA benefits, you must not be eligible for regular unemployment benefits and be unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of certain health or economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While PUA is open to all unemployed Americans, it was mainly intended as a way to provide unemployment benefits for those who were working and are now out of work and were generally self-employed (e.g. independent contractors or gig economy workers) and did not contribute taxes towards regular unemployment. Those who had regular/W2 jobs are eligible for enhanced unemployment benefits under the PEUC program. Further details on program differences below.
Delays in rolling out PUA program: State unemployment agencies and labor departments have experienced many challenges in rolling out the PUA program but all are now taking applications for individuals who are self-employed, seeking part-time employment, or who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment compensation prior to new provision in the CARES stimulus bill. This group of workers however may have a hard time officially proving their wages during the applicable 2019-20 wage based period, in which case their weekly benefit amount will be reduced based on whichever is higher – the record of wages already on file or the minimum PUA weekly benefit amount for the state.
How to Apply for PUA
To apply for unemployment benefits using the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) extension provision approved under the CARES act you need to apply via your regular state’s unemployment agency. Many states have dedicated website links and call numbers when it comes to PUA benefits.
States have mandated that you must first apply for regular UI before becoming eligible for PUA. This is baesd on federal law which only allows PUA to be paid to claimants when benefits are exhausted or if you were deemed not eligible for them – which will be the case for gig and contract workers. While it is a cause of concern for many unemployed Americans making new claims, it is the way their systems are designed to handle the new PUA coverage and provisions. So even though it may seem like the claim was denied in reality it just means that eligible claimants have been denied for standard unemployment benefits (in place prior to Coronavirus/COVID-19), but will likely qualify for the new PUA benefits. Unfortunately this makes the application process longer and could take a while for you to get your PUA claim approved.
The amount of PUA benefits are calculated based on your previously reported income and capped at the state’s maximum weekly benefit amount (WBA). PUA benefits may not be less than half of the state’s average weekly benefit amount as shown in the table below.
Eligible recipients must certify for PUA benefits weekly like regular unemployment. Individuals receiving PUA will also still be eligible for the $600 FPUC weekly payments (while available). Once they begin certifying for weekly benefits they will not have to take any additional steps, and will receive the weekly $600 payments along with their PUA benefits.
Below are some frequently asked questions and possible answers to common PUA questions I am seeing from readers on this site (see the comments below for more questions and answers).
Will my PUA claim be paid retroactively for back payments (including the $600 FPUC)?
This varies across states, but generally if you were eligible for PUA in a given week that retroactive UI benefits are payable, you will get the relevant payment. Backdated payments will be paid in one lump-sum one to two weeks after you are deemed eligible for benefits. Note that backdated payments will also include the $600 FPUC payment if you were eligible for PUA during the period the FPUC program was active.
How Long Does PUA Last in 2020?
For those who are eligible for regular benefits, they will get an additional 13 weeks on top of their state unemployment benefits. For those who don’t qualify for state unemployment they can get benefits for up to 39 weeks until the end of 2020.
Why was my PUA claim denied?
Most PUA claims that do finally get processed by the state unemployment department/agency are being denied or rejected because the claimant is eligible for standard, state-funded unemployment insurance rather than federally funded PUA. Because the PUA application process and/or link is different to the regular state unemployment application process, it is highly recommended you apply for regular state unemployment first. Only if you are denied for regular state UI (and you will be notified that you are) should you then apply for PUA.
Other reasons PUA claims are being denied are due to ongoing “glitches” in unemployment filing systems/websites that have required a lot more updates to support the new PUA provisions.
Fraud checks or additional document verification where many UI applications are being flagged has also been cited as a big reason for PUA delays/rejections. This is not surprising since may gig workers and contractors don’t have standard unemployment documentation and so require extra verification and fraud checks. If you are caught up in a fraud check, please ensure to provide the required information to your state agency (who will contact you) to keep your claim processing moving forward.
PUA vs PEUC and State Extended Benefits (EB)
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and State Extended Benefits (SB) programs are different to the PUA program and claimants cannot apply for PEUC or SB programs if they are deemed eligible for PUA. The PEUC is essentially an extension of regular state unemployment (funded under the CARES act) and allows for up to an additional 13 weeks of benefits added to the end of regular unemployment benefits. SB are an extension of UI benefits that occurs when a state meets the unemployment rate threshold for a designated period. For most states this provides up to 20 weeks of additional benefits.
|State||Maximum PUA Amount|
|District of Columbia||$444|