• Akiko Thayer

Are you self-employed and not eligible for Unemployment Insurance? PUA may cover you!

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

UPDATED info (as of April 16) from the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

As mentioned in my blog post last week, there are two additional programs within the CARES Act related to Unemployment Insurance (UI) that are still being implemented: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).

The California Labor Secretary has just provided an update on the status of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, so I wanted to provide key points on what this program is all about. The key details contained below include information from the Unemployment Insurance Guidance Letter (16-20) published by the Department of Labor, as well as from the Open Letter from the California Labor Secretary.

Please note, this program has NOT been implemented within the EDD just yet. According to the California Labor Secretary, they’ll “need two weeks to create this new technology — set up the system, test it and be able to turn payments around.”

What is it: The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to certain individuals, who would not otherwise be eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits and are unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19. The California Labor Secretary has noted that PUA benefits are distinct from the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program.

Who is eligible: Individuals not eligible for regular UI benefits, including:

  • Business owners

  • Self-employed (Example: Independent contractors, gig workers)

  • Workers lacking sufficient work history (Example: Those who recently joined the labor force and don’t have sufficient wages in their UI Base Period to establish a valid UI claim.)

  • Individuals who have qualified for regular UI benefits, but have exhausted their entitlement.

  • Other workers who would not otherwise qualify for UI benefits, such as clergy and those working for certain religious entities not covered by regular unemployment compensation, as well as others who may not be covered by the regular UI program under some state laws.

Qualified reasons for unemployment: In order to be eligible for PUA, the reason for unemployment or partial unemployment must be one of the following reasons below. Also, similar to regular UI eligibility, workers must be otherwise able and available to work.

  • The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.

  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • The individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work.

  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.

  • The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

  • The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.

  • The individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19.

  • The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

  • This reason also applies to gig workers who have been forced to suspend operations as a result of COVID-19.

Beginning and end date of PUA: PUA benefits cover workers unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19 from January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020. In California since our week of unemployment ends on a Saturday, we’ll have the following start and end dates once implemented:

  • The first week that PUA may be paid is the week ending February 8, 2020. The California Labor Secretary has noted that PUA benefits will be paid retroactive to the start date of an individual’s partial/unemployment situation.

  • The last payable week that PUA may be paid is the week ending December 26, 2020.

What is the PUA Amount: The PUA weekly benefit amount is equal to the amount an individual would have received if they were eligible for regular UI. Regular UI benefit amounts range from $40 (minimum) to $450 (maximum) per week, depending on income. To estimate your weekly UI benefit amount, use this online UI calculator or refer to this table.

What is the max duration of entitlement: The total number of weeks that an individual may receive PUA may not exceed 39 weeks. Further, the max 39 weeks includes any week the individual received regular UI compensation or extended benefits.

Will those receiving PUA also receive the additional $600 from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program: Yes, individuals receiving a weekly PUA benefit of at least $1 may also receive the weekly $600 FPUC benefit, but only during the applicable duration of FPUC (April 4, 2020 - July 25, 2020). Read more about FPUC here.

How to apply: Eligible individuals will be able to apply for PUA using the EDD UI Online system. According to the California Labor Secretary, “individuals will be able to go to UI Online to self-certify that they meet the COVID-19-related criteria for PUA. We will make clear in the self-certification that certification of eligibility for PUA does not affect determinations of employee status under state law for other protections and benefits.”

The California Labor Secretary also claims that the PUA payments will be made within 24 to 48 hours of applying for PUA benefits, as opposed to the 3 weeks+ it’s been taking for regular UI. [Editor’s note: I won’t hold my breath on that one, but will keep my fingers crossed!]

Who pays for PUA: The cost of PUA is 100% federally funded. Implementation costs and administrative costs are also 100% federally funded.

Again, the PUA program has NOT been implemented by the EDD yet. However, it’s a good sign that the California Labor Secretary is pushing proactive messaging on this. Stay tuned for more updates.

Until then, stay healthy and safe, my friends!

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