The US Department of Labor (DOL) has issued four new guidance letters providing clarity surrounding the unemployment compensation provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
It is important to note that in order to apply for UI benefits under CARES, it is the same application process as California Unemployment Insurance administered by the state Employment Development Department (EDD). Individuals who apply for California UI will automatically have an application into CARES. Claimants do not need to do anything extra to receive the extra CARES funding.
Also, CEA emphasizes that, in general, employers should not be advising employees about their eligibility for UI benefits or guaranteeing eligibility. The ultimate determination is made by the state based on individual circumstances. While employers should have a general understanding of how UI works, employees with questions about their benefit eligibility or claims should direct those questions to the EDD — even if EDD is currently slow to respond.
UI Programs under the CARES Act
Before going into detail regarding the guidance letters, it is important to make sense of the three different UI programs under the CARES Act.
|Program||Period of Applicability||Program|
|Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)||Weeks of unemployment beginning after date of signed agreement through 07/25/2020*||Provides a federal benefit of $600 a week in addition to state unemployment insurance benefits.|
|Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)||Weeks of unemployment from 03/29/2020 through 12/31/2020||Extends benefits for an extra 13 weeks after regular unemployment compensation benefits are exhausted.|
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
See also, EDD’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance page.
|Weeks of unemployment beginning on or after 01/27/2020 through 12/26/2020||Provides for up to 39 weeks of UI benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits under state or Federal law or PEUC - including those who have exhausted all rights to such benefits. Covered individuals also include self-employed, those seeking part-time employment, individuals lacking sufficient work history.|
|* Under the CARES Act of 2020, the $600 additional benefits are available through 07/31/20. However, the U.S. Department of Labor has issued guidance to clarify that, for most Californians, the last full week of benefits will end on 07/25/20. Similarly, the PUA program has a legislative end date of 12/31/20, but for Californians the last full week of benefits will end on 12/26/20.|
Order of Benefits
The DOL Guidance Letter published on April 2, 2020 explains the order that individuals should apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits listed in the table above. Specifically, individuals who may be eligible for UI programs:
Clarification of $600 Weekly Benefit
The DOL Guidance Letter published on April 4, 2020 provides clarification surrounding FPUC, the additional $600 federal weekly UI benefit. FPUC benefits are available to individuals collecting any amount of state-funded UI. Individuals who are “eligible to receive at least one dollar ($1) of underlying [state] benefits for the claimed week will receive the full $600 FPUC.”
However, if an individual is not entitled to receive state-funded UI benefits in any given week (i.e., the individual has performed part-time work where they earn more than their weekly benefit amount), the individual will not be eligible for regular UI benefits or FPUC benefits.
Employers who may have to reduce employees’ schedules might want to look into California’s Workshare program because employees may potentially still receive partial regular wages and partial UI benefits, which could in turn make those employees eligible for the additional $600 per week under CARES. Information on California’s Workshare program can be found here.
Who is Eligible
The DOL Guidance Letter published on April 5, 2020 clarified the PUA program. Specifically, PUA provides benefits to individuals who are not eligible for regular unemployment compensation, including business owners, independent contractors and those who have collected all eligible benefits. (See above table for specifics.)
The guidance confirms that only individuals impacted by one of the COVID-19 related reasons listed below qualify for PUA benefits. It also clarifies that benefits are not payable to individuals who have the ability to telework with pay, or who are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.
However, the DOL did note that an individual “receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits for less than [their] customary work week” or who “has been offered the option of teleworking with pay and does telework with pay, but is working less than the individual customarily worked prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” still may be eligible for at least reduced weekly PUA benefits.
The COVID-19-related reasons under PUA include:
More Guidance Forthcoming
Finally, the DOL Guidance Letter published on April 10, 2020 provides states with operating, financial, and reporting instructions for the PEUC program.
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