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.
Note – PUA benefits have been extended in some states like New York, California and Georgia by 7 weeks, as part of extensions to state level extended benefit programs. Further those who were getting PUA payments in August and September will have automatically qualified for the $300 to $400 Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) unemployment benefits program. Most states have now gotten approval and have paid out the 6 weeks of funding available for this program (see full LWA state tracker), including retroactive payments,
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.
Will My PUA Benefits End in December Even if I Have a Balance or Weeks Left to Claim
Unfortunately yes. The program’s federal funding has a hard stop at the end of the year (December 26th in most states). So even if you have a balance or weeks of benefits left after year end, and millions of unemployed workers will be in this boat, you won’t be getting these payments in 2021 unless Congress extends unemployment benefits. Extended state benefits may however be available in states where unemployment rates are higher than pre-specified thresholds (see below for further details).
Delays in PUA program payments: State unemployment agencies and labor departments have experienced many challenges in rolling out the PUA program but all are now processing applications and payments 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. Note – There are no minimum wage qualifying criteria for PUA.
Eligible recipients must certify for PUA benefits weekly like regular unemployment. Individuals receiving PUA will also still be eligible for other unemployment supplementary 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 and $300 LWA)?
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 for other supplementary enhanced benefit programs. 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 between 39 and 46 weeks until the end of 2020. At this stage unless Congress extends the PUA program via a new stimulus package, PUA benefit payments will end at the end of this year.
Are PUA benefits taxable?
Yes, like all unemployment benefits PUA is considered taxable income and you may elect to have withholding taxes deducted from your payment (generally around 10%). You will receive Form 1099-G with form your state UI agency to file with your 2020 income taxes in 2021.
Child Support or Dependent Payments Deductions
Child support obligations will be deducted from PUA, as they would with normal state unemployment. You can file an injured spouse form to mitigate this.
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.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefit payment delays
Other than being flagged for Fraud, many readers are reporting PUA application processing and payment delays if you have multiple people using your address for UC, PUA, EB, etc. Or if you moved, bills in other people’s names, etc is causing delays.
I cannot get ahold of anyone when I call for help.
Despite dedicated phone lines for PUA claims many readers are reporting it is nearly impossible to get a hold of a live person to speak to at their state UI agency regarding their unemployment claim. You can see the comments below for some ideas to try, but generally will take a lot of patience and calling in “off” hours to get through. Because of the pandemic and record high call volumes, you may need to try alternative methods like social media or going via your state congressional leaders to try and expedite your claim.
PUA vs PEUC and State Extended Benefits (EB)
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and State Extended Benefits (EB) programs are different to the PUA program and claimants cannot continue in the PEUC or EB 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. EB 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.
Please note, if you had received UC or EB benefits and then apply for PUA, any week of regular UC benefits or any week of state extended benefits (EB) collected since February 2, 2020 will be deducted from the weeks of PUA you are eligible for.
|State||Maximum PUA Amount|
|District of Columbia||$444|
This article was updated on November 22