Unemployment Insurance Claims for Workers Affected by Coronavirus

While many people are aware that the federal government enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) to provide financial relief to affected workers, there’s been some confusion as to who is eligible and how to claim benefits. Here we’ll cover how workers (including contractors and freelancers) can claim federal unemployment benefits. A separate article on out blog covers employer SBA loans. Federal labor law provisions concerning sick pay and FMLA leave are not covered here.

While traditional W-2 employees or workers are often eligible to apply for state unemployment insurance, typically those systems do not cover freelancers, contractors, certain part-time and other workers, with insufficient work history. The CARES Act enables all types of workers to apply for unemployment insurance. The federal benefit ($600 week) is in addition to state benefits; however, you must apply through your state system to get federal benefits. Here’s what the federal government has done to expand state law coverage with respect to traditional W-2 workers:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) is federally provided relief of $600/week, which will be paid to those who claim state unemployment benefits. This federal benefit is available through July 31, 2020.
  • An additional 13 weeks of state unemployment insurance benefits is available after regular benefits run dry. All but eight states offer 26 weeks of benefits. Those that don’t are AK, AL, FL, ID, KS, MO, NC and SC.
  • Traditional one week waiting periods are waived. States will be reimbursed by the federal government for this waiting period week.

Benefits for Independent Contractors and Freelancers. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides benefits to workers who historically are not entitled to unemployment insurance. The minimum benefit will be equal to one-half the state’s average weekly unemployment insurance (UI) benefit or roughly $190/week. Those eligible include independent contractors, freelancers, part-time workers and those whose work history is not long enough to qualify under traditional unemployment insurance.

To qualify for these benefits you must self-certify that you are: (1) partially or fully unemployed or (2) unable and unavailable to work because of one of the following reasons:

  • Been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms or seeking diagnosis;
  • A household member is diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • Providing care to a person afflicted with COVID-19;
  • Providing care to a child or other household member who cannot attend school or work because it is closed due to COVID-19;
  • Been quarantined or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
  • Scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or can’t reach their job because of the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • Have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of the household has died because of COVID-19;
  • Had to quit a job because of COVID-19;
  • Place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • Meet other criteria established by the Department of Labor.

Undocumented workers do not qualify, nor do workers who are telecommuting and receiving pay or individuals who are receiving paid sick days or paid leave. The PUA program runs from January 27, 2020, through December 31, 2020, and workers can be eligible for retroactive pay.

To start the claim process, you must log into your state’s unemployment insurance portal. New York claims can be filed here: https://labor.ny.gov/unemploymentassistance.shtm

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