Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Benefits

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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is having a significant impact on the workplace. Employers are cutting back staff, having employees work remotely, and changing operational procedures to help ensure employee and customer safety.

Here’s information on unemployment and sick leave benefit programs for workers impacted by the coronavirus, what’s available, how to apply for benefits, and what you can expect to receive.

Unemployment Benefit Programs

Congress has passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 which extends the additional unemployment benefits provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

Qualified unemployed workers, including laid-off workers, self-employed individuals, independent contractors, workers with a limited work history, and those who can't work due to the coronavirus will receive:

State Unemployment Insurance (UI)

State unemployment insurance benefits are available for eligible workers. Most states provide a maximum of 26 weeks of unemployment compensation. Unemployed workers can file for benefits online.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides unemployment benefits to workers who were not traditionally eligible for benefits, including self-employed people.

This program is extended through March 14, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 14, 2021 to continue collecting through April 5, 2021, as long as the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks. The number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim is increased from 39 to 50.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)

Federal funded Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) provides an additional $300 a week for any worker eligible for state or federal unemployment compensation benefits through March 14, 2021. This will be paid automatically and will be in addition to UI or PUA compensation.

Extended Unemployment Benefits

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act (PEUC)

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act (part of the CARES Act) provides for federal funding for additional weeks of unemployment benefits to workers who have exhausted all benefits for a limited period of time due to COVID-19.

This program is extended to March 14, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 14, 2021 to continue through April 5, 2021, as long as the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks. The number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim through the PEUC program is extended from 13 to 24.

Payments will be made by your state unemployment department, and you can get the details on the state unemployment website.

Company-Provided Unemployment Programs

Some companies are providing new or additional sick and family leave benefits because of the coronavirus. For example, Walmart has a new policy that provides employees with extra flexibility to stay home, as well as pay options and support if they are affected by the virus.

CNBC reports that Amazon continued to pay hourly workers and provided unlimited sick leave to employees through May 1, 2020.  Meanwhile, LinkedIn notes that some companies, including Apple and Patagonia, closed stores but continued to pay employees. 

How to Learn More: If your employer hasn’t notified you of changes to leave policies, check with your manager or human resources department.

Union-Provided Benefits

If you’re a union member, there may be benefits available. However, they will vary from union to union. Check with your shop steward or union hall for information on unemployment benefits and other programs for impacted workers.

How to Learn More: Check with your local union for information on benefits and eligibility.

The Department of Labor's Economy Recovery portal has information on filing for unemployment in your state, plus resources for housing, food, finances, health care, and more.

Sick Leave Programs

Family and Medical Leave Benefits

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides for unpaid time off for certain workers due to medical and family reasons. The law was expanded to include benefits for employees impacted by COVID-19 through December 31, 2020. 

Effective January 1, 2021, employers are not required to provide time off. Covered employers may voluntarily provide emergency paid sick leave or emergency paid FMLA leave under FFCRA and take a tax credit associated with this leave. The tax credit may be taken for leave through March 31, 2021.

How to Get Benefits: Check with your employer on eligibility for benefits.

State Sick Leave Programs

Some states have other sick-leave programs that some workers qualify for.

State Leave Benefits

The following states (and Washington, D.C.) have laws providing paid sick leave to employees. Benefits vary based on your state and employment status. These states include:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington (state)
  • Washington, District of Columbia

You may also qualify for disability benefits if you are unable to work due to illness.

How to Apply: Check with your employer for information on FMLA benefits. Check your State Department of Labor website for details on state sick leave and disability benefits.

Employer-Provided Sick Leave

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that overall, 73% of private industry workers received paid sick leave benefits from their employers in March 2019, with 94% of workers in management, business, and financial occupations receiving sick leave benefits.

However, paid sick leave benefits were much lower in other sectors, with only 58% of workers in service occupations and 56% of workers in construction, extraction, farming, fishing, and forestry occupations receiving benefits.

Check with your employer to find out what sick leave benefits are available to you. Some employers are expanding benefits and sick pay due to the coronavirus.

Key Takeaways

Keep Yourself and Your Family Safe: Follow the CDC guidelines for staying safe at work and for when not to work.

Stay Informed: Benefits for sick and unemployed workers are being expanded. Check with your employer and state department of work for the latest information.

Ask for Help: Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Many people are affected by COVID-19, and the government and employers want to assist as best they can.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.