This article was last updated on February 28
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program was put in place primarily for those out-of-work Americans who are not eligible for regular state unemployment benefits and are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of certain health or economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This group of jobless workers are generally self-employed (e.g. independent contractors, freelancers or gig economy workers) who did not contribute taxes towards regular state unemployment (1099 wages). The PUA program has been extended several times over the last year and you can jump to the relevant extension section via the links below for further information on each extension, including FAQs around the evolution of the program.
- Planned Third PUA Extension under Biden ARP Bill (Mar 15, 2021 to Aug 29, 2021)
- Second PUA Extension Under COVID Relief Bill (Dec 27, 2020 to Mar 14, 2021)
- Initial PUA Program under CARES act (Feb 2nd, 2020 to Dec 26, 2020)
Biden Stimulus (American Rescue Plan) PUA Extensions
The PUA program, designed for freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors or those that generally don’t qualify for regular state unemployment, will likely be extended by another 24 weeks under the Biden Stimulus Plan (ARP) that is currently working its way for approval in Congress. The goal is to get the bill signed prior to March 14th, when funding for the current extension (see below) expires.
Assuming the Biden extension passes, the total number of covered weeks in the PUA program will increase 74. This does not include extra weeks some state provided under this program. You can see an overview of the federal extensions to date in the diagram below. The minimum PUA payment is still 50% of a states average weekly benefit amount and limited to the state’s maximum weekly benefit amount (WBA).
Those who had regular/W2 jobs could technically qualify for the PUA program, but would need to first use up their allocation of regular state unemployment, extended benefits and enhanced unemployment benefits under the PEUC program.
I will continue to provide updates on the approval of the third PUA extension and update with Department of Labor (DOL) implementation guidelines when available.
PUA Extensions under $900 billion CAA COVID relief stimulus package
The $900 billion COVID relief stimulus package, under the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) included funding for extending pandemic unemployment programs (PUA, PEUC) and providing supplementary FPUC unemployment benefits at $300 per week for millions of unemployed or underemployed Americans. The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued final guidelines for state unemployment agencies on payments and eligibility (as done with the original program) and any delayed payments will be retroactively reimbursed.
For the PUA program specifically, which was due to expire on December 26th, 2020 (originally funded under the CARES act), there is now funding for an extra 11 weeks. This now means that the PUA program would provide a base total of 50 weeks of coverage. Some states have additional weeks on top of this as part of state extended benefit programs (per earlier updates below). For those with remaining weeks, they will continue to be have their balances carried forward until they hit the new 50 week maximum. They will have until the week ending April 10th, 2021 to claim unemployment benefits under the extended PUA program.
How long is the PUA extension for?
After March 14, 2021, new claimants will no longer be permitted to apply for PUA benefits, but eligible individuals who have a PUA claim balance (or remaining weeks) as of March 14th, 2021 will continue to receive benefits until the week beginning April 5, 2021 until their claim balance is exhausted. Weekly certification will be required. Note however that the $300 extra weekly FPUC won’t be payable during the PUA phase out period (March 14th to April 5th). See which states are paying the extra $300 unemployment to PUA recipients.
Do I need to reapply or submit a new claim to get the PUA extension?
This will depend on a state by state basis and if you had exhausted your balance prior to December 27th, 2020 (when the extension coverage period started). State UI agencies are rolling out the extended PUA coverage and need to incorporate new documentation and fraud prevention measures (see section below) to enable people to claim benefits under the the extended PUA program.
PUA recipients with active claims (remaining weeks/balance) as of or after December 27th. These group of claimants who had not used their 39 week balance at the start of the extended coverage period are already are already seeing the 11 week extension reflected in their UI accounts (including the extra $300 payment) and in several states can continue certifying and receive weekly payments. There may be a one to two week lapse in payments as state UI agency update systems but your account should automatically reflect the 11 week extension to the PUA program. Even if payments have not started, you should continue your weekly of biweekly certification (where possible) if you continue to be fully or partially unemployed. Payments will be retroactively made
New applicants or those whose PUA claims have been exhausted prior to or including the week ending December 26th, 2020 may need to reapply or reactivate their claim if they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work after December 27, 2020 because of COVID-19. State UI agencies are all implementing the new PUA program extensions based on DOL guidelines based on how their systems/programs can handle the extension and inclusion of new PUA program requirements. This has meant ongoing delays and limited transparency in payments for many who fall into this bucket of claimants (and it is the large majority of jobless workers). However state UI agencies are mandated to notify claimants if they qualify for the new PUA extension and instructions on how to reopen or refile their claim to enable them to certify to get their UI payments, including the $300 FPUC weekly payment. Please monitory your email, text messages and online UI portal for next steps and instructions. I will continue to post updates as well.
New PUA Fraud Prevention and Documentation Requirements
To address the significant fraud associated with the PUA program (due to it’s expansive eligibility and antiquated state UI systems that could not support new program rules) the new stimulus bill included some additional measures to tighten up eligibility and claimant verification. This includes the following provisions that are required to be in place by January 31st, 2020:
- New applicants will have 21 days to submit documentation substantiating their employment, self-employment, or planned commencement of employment/self-employment.
- Individuals already receiving PUA benefits (continuing claimants) must provide documentation within 90 days
- States must implement procedures to validate the identity of claimants and to ensure timely payments.
- Employers will be able to report instances to local state UI agencies in which a former employee refuses to return to work or refuses to accept an offer of suitable work without good cause (which renders the individual ineligible for unemployment benefits).
See this video for a summary on these requirements and why they are the underlying cause of significant delays for people to claim or continue getting PUA benefits under the extended coverage period.
$100 Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation for PUA claimants
Another new provision to address gaps with some of the original PUA rules is for those who got a mix of self employment and age income. Individuals who received at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income during 2019 now will receive an additional $100 weekly benefit, in addition to the benefit amounts they otherwise would be entitled to receive from regular state unemployment. Previously, such individuals were not eligible for PUA benefits if they received some regular state unemployment benefits for traditional employment, and regular state law benefits did not consider self-employment in calculating the benefit amounts. The new federally-funded “mixed earner” benefit is in addition to the $300 supplementary FPUC weekly benefit under FPUC.
Backdating of PUA claims – Limitations introduced
Under the COVID relief legislation a new limitation on backdating PUA claims was passed for new applications after December 27th, 2020. Initial or new applications for PUA after December 27, 2020 may not be backdated earlier than December 1, 2020 – which would cover benefits for the week ending December 6th, 2020 in most states. This does not affect existing applications which will be subject to the 2020 CARES act provisions.
What if I worked in multiple states, where do I file for PUA?
The DOL has clarified that a self-employed individual must file with the state where he or she was working at the time of becoming unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of an approved COVID-19 related reason. If an individual worked in more than one state at this time, the individual may file in any of those states. So go for the state where you can get the largest weekly benefit (note that the minimum PUA benefit payment is 50% of the states regular UI maximum).
New DOL guidance that expands PUA eligibility to three additional categories of workers:
- Jobless workers receiving unemployment benefits who had their continued regular unemployment benefits’ claims denied after they refused to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite not in compliance with coronavirus health and safety standards.
- Workers laid off, or who have had their work hours reduced as a direct result of COVID-19.
- School employees working without a contract or reasonable assurance of continued employment who face reduced paychecks and no assurance of continued pay when schools are closed due to coronavirus.
Original PUA program under CARES Act (some items superseded or update by 2021 extensions above)
The PUA program funded under the CARES act provided up to 39 weeks of unemployment 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 now expired $300 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). See this video on some recent PUA updates and back payments.
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.
PUA Unemployment: Moved or worked in multiple states
Generally, you should file your claim in the state where you worked or received income. Or your state of primary residence if income has come from several states as may be common with people who qualify for PUA. If you moved states you will need to reapply in that state for PUA, based on the process they have (varies by state). When you file a claim, you will be asked for certain information, such as addresses/location and dates of your former employment. This will allow them to make a determination of your partial benefit.
Right now state systems are not connected and rely on the wage income you provide so you need to be careful of PUA overpayment, which could mean having to pay or taxes or face repayment and penalties from one or more of the states you are in. The program is for 39 weeks to 46 weeks (depending on state) in total. You are not supposed to double dip across state lines and eventually will be flagged.
Based on some of the comments to this article, if you are having to apply for PUA across multiple states there is a good chance you will be flagged for a fraudulent claim. So be patient and prepared to go through a verification process based on the state UI agency guidelines.
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.
(Click State For Details)
|PUA State Contact Number||Paying Original 39 weeks (CARES)?||Paying 11-Week 2021 Extension?|
|District of Columbia||Y||Y|
|New Jersey||North Jersey: 201-601-4100|
Central Jersey: 732-761-2020
Southern Jersey: 856-507-2340
1-833-324-0366 (to certify)