Changes To Unemployment In The CARES Act

Incoming Changes To Unemployment In The CARES Act

A record 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week. The surge in jobless claims is being fueled by the growing number of companies that have announced layoffs or furloughs as they try to weather the economic storm caused by the pandemic. While many health care workers are in jobs that are categorized as “essential”, others employed in settings such as out-patient physical therapy, elective procedures and health care support workers are seeing their hours cut or clinics closing. Queue the incoming changes to unemployment.

Unemployment insurance is a joint program between the federal government and the states set up to provide some money to people who are trying to get a job but can’t find one. The benefit has been enhanced by the CARES Act recently passed by the federal government.

The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. A nearly $2 trillion economic stimulus package, it provides an estimated $260 billion in enhanced and expanded unemployment insurance to millions of workers throughout the country who are being furloughed, laid off, or finding themselves without work through no fault of their own because of the COVID-19 pandemic and our public health response to it. It’s goal is to provide relief in a multitude of areas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One part of this new law contains some changes to unemployment benefits.

Referred to as the “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program”, it allows for financial assistance to those who in the past would not receive benefits, such as part-time employees, independent contractors, those who are self-employed, and people who have already completed unemployment benefits.

To receive the benefit, individuals in categories that normally wouldn’t qualify for benefits must prove that they can no longer work due to activity related to COVID-19. Some examples are:

  • Diagnosis of COVID-19, a COVID-19 diagnosis of a member of the household or providing care for a member of the household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Primary caregiving responsibility for a family member who is unable to attend school or another facility that has been closed due to the national emergency.
  • Inability to work because of a quarantine imposed by the national emergency or self-quarantine advised by a health care provider.
  • Inability to begin recently gained employment or being forced to end employment as a direct result of the national emergency.

Some of the highlights are:

Temporary Changes To Unemployment Compensation

The CARES Act temporarily supplements UI benefit amounts. From the date it was signed throughout July 31, 2020 all claimants will receive their usually calculated benefits plus an additional $600 per week as compensation. This flat amount supplement is included for those receiving partial unemployment benefit checks. It can be paid with the regular payments or at a separate time.

As per the office of unemployment compensation (PA), ” L&I will begin issuing the additional $600 per week once we have received guidance from the United States Department of Labor and have modified our system to implement that guidance.  We will backdate your claim, so you are paid from the time you separated from your job (on or after March 29, 2020) or otherwise became eligible under the CARES Act.”

Waiving The Waiting Week

Most states have a statutory one-week “waiting period” for people to receive unemployment benefits. Under the CARES Act, states that waive the one-week waiting period will be fully reimbursed by the federal government for that week of benefits paid out to workers plus the administrative expenses necessary for processing those payments.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

The CARES Act provides an additional 13 weeks of state UI benefits, which will become available after someone exhausts all their regular state UI benefits. All but eight states offer 26 weeks of UI benefits. 

To receive PEUC, workers must be actively engaged in searching for work. The bill explicitly provides, however, that “a state shall provide flexibility in meeting such requirements in case of individuals unable to search for work because of COVID-19, including because of illness, quarantine, or movement restriction.”

As per the Department of Labor website, an individual receiving paid sick leave or paid family leave is still receiving pay. Thus, generally speaking, the individual is not “unemployed,” so the individual is ineligible for unemployment insurance. 

Unemployment rules and benefits differ from state to state. For more information on your state go to:

Some of the frequently asked questions are:

How do I file for unemployment?

Unemployment benefits should be applied for online. “Every one of the 50 states has an online application system,’’says Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project.

How much will I be paid?

Benefit amounts differ by state. Most state websites for unemployment have a calculator where you can figure out your benefit. Keep in mind that until July 30, 2020 you will receive an additional $600 per week.

Can I file if I am self-employed?

Yes. Independent contractors, freelancers and gig workers will be able to get benefits through the pandemic assistance program established by the CARES act.

What is a gig worker?

Gig workers are independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers. Gig workers enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies, for example Uber or TaskRabbit, to provide services to the company’s clients.

How long is the COVID-19 federal program?

It will be in place from Jan. 27, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020. The extra $600 weekly benefit, however, will stop at the end of July.

To learn more go to the Department of Labor website at:

With the COVID-19 pandemic making such a drastic impact on the world and our country, changes to unemployment are just the tip of the ice burg. If you would like to stay up to date on the coronavirus, please consider joining us weekly for our coronavirus update.


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