As we anticipated in our Compliance Matter regarding the CARES Act unemployment benefits provisions, the Department of Labor has issued further guidance to states on how to administer these unemployment benefits. The guidance as to the extra $600/wk in federal unemployment benefits under CARES can be found here . The guidance as to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Programs (PUA), through which CARES provides unemployment benefits to certain people who are ineligible for state unemployment insurance can be found here . We summarize some of the key clarifications for individuals seeking these benefits below.

The Extra $600 Federal Unemployment Benefits

Q: How do you apply for the extra $600 benefits?

A: These applications will be handled by your state agency that handles unemployment benefits. If you are already receiving state-based unemployment benefits, you do not need to apply separately for these benefits. But if you are not already receiving state-based unemployment benefits, you will need to apply for them as soon as possible.

Q: When can you start getting the extra $600 federal unemployment benefits?

A: The extra $600 benefits may start once  a state enters into an agreement with the Department. These payments will stop on July 31, 2020. California has announced that it will begin issuing the additional $600 payments beginning this Sunday, for the week ending April 11.

Q: Does eligibility for the full $600 depend on how many hours you were working?

A: No. If you are eligible for any unemployment benefits at all, even if it is just one dollar, under your state’s laws or federal law, then you will receive the full $600.

Q: Can employers get charged for this $600 benefit?

A: No. States cannot charge employers for these benefits, and payments cannot impact an employer’s experience rating (for purposes of determining contribution rates).

Q: Do the $600 benefits constitute taxable income?

A: Yes
Q: Can you obtain the CARES unemployment benefits if you quit your job in order to get them?

A: The guidance cautions that quitting work without good cause to obtain additional benefits constitutes fraud. You are only entitled to benefits if you are no longer working through no fault of your own, and are able and available to work. If you are found to have fraudulently obtained benefits, you will be ineligible for additional benefits payments, must pay back the benefits received, and can be criminally prosecuted.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA)

Q: How do you apply for PUA Benefits?

A: These applications will be handled by your state agency that handles unemployment benefits. Some states are already accepting these applications, while others are not ready yet – keep checking with your state agency’s website. California is not ready yet, here is the link to the dedicated PUA page on the EDD website for ease of reference.

Q: What amount of unemployment benefits can you get under the PUA?

A: You can get the same amount that you would have gotten from your state’s unemployment benefits.

Q: If you are getting PUA benefits, can you still get the extra $600?

A: Yes. For qualifying weeks between March 27, 2020, and July 31, 2020.

Q: What is the period of time that you can get PUA benefits?

A: You can get them for all qualifying weeks from January 27, 2020, to December 31, 2020.

Q: What makes you eligible for PUA benefits?

A: If you are not qualified for regular unemployment benefits under state or federal law, or pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (including if you have exhausted all rights to such benefits, you are self-employed, seeking part-time employment, or lack sufficient work history) AND you are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work due to a COVID-19-related reason.

Q: What would be a COVID-19 related reason that might qualify you for PUA?

A: Here are some examples:

  • If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis AND are unable to continue work activities, even through teleworking, because of your condition. 
  • If you were in direct contact with someone who has COVID-19, and, on the advice of a qualified medical health professional, had to resign in order to quarantine.
  • If you are unable to work because a member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional.
  • If you are providing care for a family member or member of your household who has COVID-19 AND providing that care requires such ongoing and constant attention that your ability to perform other work functions is severely limited.
  • If a child or other person in your household for which you have primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of COVID-19 and such school or facility care is required for you to work. If your job can be done through teleworking, you cannot get benefits unless the person you are now responsible for caring for requires such ongoing and constant attention that it is not possible for you to perform work at home.
  • You can’t reach the work site because doing so would require the violation of a state or municipal order restricting travel that was instituted to combat the spread of COVID-19.
  • You can’t reach the work site because you have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19 (for example if you have had direct contact with someone who has COVID-19, or if you have a compromised immune system and need to self-quarantine because of a greater-than-average health risk).
  • You were supposed to start a job, but no longer have a job or cannot reach the job as a direct result of COVID-19; for example if the employer has closed the place of employment, or rescinded the job offer as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • If the person in your household who previously contributed the majority of financial support has died as a direct result of COVID-19, and you are now expected to be the breadwinner.
  • If you had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19, for example if your COVID-19 illness caused health complications that made you unable to perform the essential functions of your job, with or without reasonable accommodations.
  • If your place of employment is closed because your business was shut down due to an emergency declaration or due to necessary social distancing protocols.

Q: Under what circumstances would you qualify for PUA benefits if you are an independent contractor?

A: If the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited your ability to continue performing your customary work activities, and has thereby forced you to suspend such activities. For example, a driver for a ridesharing service could not claim PUA benefits on the basis that he is unable to work because his place of employment has closed, but may still qualify if he has been forced to suspend operations as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, such as if an emergency state or municipal order restricting movement makes continued operations unsustainable.

Q: Can you receive PUA benefits if you are teleworking?

A: Generally you cannot receive PUA benefits if you are teleworking for pay, but there may be an exception if you are working less than you worked prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: Can you receive PUA Benefits if you are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits?

A: Generally no, but there may be an exception if you are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits for less than your customary work week.

If you have any questions about the matters discussed in this issue of Compliance Matters, please call your firm contact at (818) 508-3700, or visit us online at .

Richard S. Rosenberg
Katherine A. Hren
Stephanie B. Kantor
Ballard Rosenberg Golper & Savitt, LLP