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Worker Rights and Benefits: What does the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Do for Unemployment Compensation (UC) Benefits (including Pandemic UC)?

The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. The law expands Unemployment Compensation (“UC”) benefits. These changes temporarily increase payments and allow more workers to qualify.

What is Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)?

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payments began the week of April 20, 2020 and were available through July 25, 2020.  The federal government paid an additional $600 a week to any worker who received state or federal unemployment compensation. The $600 was added to whatever your weekly payment was under Ohio’s unemployment compensation law. For example, if your regular benefit was $400 per week, you would have received an additional $600 per week, for a total payment of $1,000 per week.

How Long Can I Receive UC Payments Under CARES?

CARES extends UC payments for 13 additional weeks. This is called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). In Ohio, you normally can receive up to 26 weeks of UC payments. CARES increases the total number of weeks to 39 weeks.  PEUC will only be available for weeks of unemployment ending on or before December 31, 2020.

If you were receiving UC payments but received your final payment after July 19, 2019, you are eligible for 13 more weeks of benefits if you are not currently working.

Can I Get Unemployment Assistance if I Do Not Qualify for Regular UC?

Yes. CARES expands coverage to workers who normally do not receive UC if they are either completely or partially unemployed because of the COVID-19 crisis. This new type of UC benefit is called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

Workers who could be eligible for PUA include self-employed workers, independent contractors, “gig economy” workers, and workers who were unable to start a new job or contract because of the Coronavirus. These workers usually receive Form MISC-1099 instead of Form W-2 to report their wages to the IRS.

The PUA program was designed to be a program of last resort. This means that individuals who are eligible for traditional UC benefits, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or Federal-State Extended Benefits are not eligible for PUA.  If you earned at least $269 a week in your most recent employment and worked 20 weeks or more in the last year, you must apply for traditional UC benefits and receive a determination that you are ineligible for those benefits before applying for PUA.

How Do I Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

You can complete an application for PUA at

How Can I Prove That I Am Eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

When you apply for PUA, you should provide documentation, if possible, of the situation that makes you eligible for the benefits. You must prove (“self-certify”) at least one of these situations apply to you:

  • You have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus or have symptoms of the Coronavirus and are seeking diagnosis by a doctor or health provider;
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus;
  • You are caring for someone who has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus;
  • You are caring for a child or other household member who cannot attend school or work because it is closed due to the Coronavirus;
  • You are quarantined or have been advised by your doctor or health provider to self-quarantine;
  • You were scheduled to start work and do not have a job or cannot reach your workplace because of the Coronavirus outbreak;
  • You have become the main provider of your household because the head of your household has died as a result of the Coronavirus;
  • You had to quit your job as a direct result of the Coronavirus (for example, if you have ongoing medical problems after recovering from Coronavirus that make you unable to return to work);
  • Your workplace closed as a direct result of the Coronavirus; or
  • You meet another criteria created by the Secretary of Labor.

What if I Choose to Quit My Job Because I Think It Is Unsafe?

If you choose to leave your job because you think it is unsafe, but your workplace or health provider did not tell you to do so, you are probably not eligible for PUA. Like regular UC, you must meet certain guidelines to be eligible for benefits, which are listed above. If you have any questions or are unsure if your situation would allow you to be eligible for PUA, please call Legal Aid’s Worker Information Line at 216-861-5899 in Cuyahoga County or 440-210-4532 from Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake or Lorain Counties.

What is the Time Period that Workers Can Receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

PUA coverage is available retroactively from February 2, 2020 and ends on December 31, 2020. You are eligible for benefits from the time you lost work due to COVID-19 (INCLUDING any time after February 2, 2020) until you receive 39 weeks of benefits or until December 31, 2020, which ever happens first. The federal government can extend the period past December 31, 2020.

How Much Can I Receive from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

It depends. Under CARES, PUA payments are similar to regular UC payments and follow the same payment structure. The maximum weekly benefit amount is $480.  If your weekly wages are under $269/week, you should be paid at least half of Ohio’s average weekly UC benefit, which would be about $190 per week. In addition to the payment you received from PUA, you will also be eligible to receive the $600 per week under FPUC for all weeks of unemployment ending on or before July 31, 2020.

Where Can I Find More Information on the Impact of the Coronavirus on Unemployment Compensation Benefits?

See below for information for employees from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services: 

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