Unemployment Eligibility Expanded Under CARES Act

April 6, 2020Alerts

Unemployment compensation will be vastly expanded under the CARES Act. The law includes provisions that focus on individual recipients, expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits and increasing the amount of those benefits. In addition, the law provides for substantial funding to states, which administer their own unemployment programs.

Additional Grounds for Eligibility

The CARES Act broadens eligibility standards to include reasons related to the COVID-19 public health emergency declared by the federal government.

These reasons include that the individual:

  • has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of the virus and seeking a diagnosis.
  • is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • is unable to reach their workplace due to a quarantine that has been imposed related to COVID-19 or because a health care provider has advised the individual to self-quarantine
  • was employed in a workplace that has been closed due to COVID-19
  • was scheduled to begin employment, but is unable to reach the job or has lost the job due to COVID-19
  • has to quit a job as a direct result of COVID-19
  • has become the major supporter of his or her household because the head of the household died due to COVID-19

It also expands coverage due to family and personal circumstances, including:

  • The individual’s child or a person to whom the individual provides care is unable to attend school or other care providers that has been closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Eligibility for the Self-Employed

The CARES Act also extends eligibility to individuals who do not normally have access to unemployment benefits, including gig workers, independent contractors, individuals seeking part-time employment, and others who would not normally qualify for benefits (e.g. those lacking sufficient work history or who fail to meet regular earnings/hours requirements). These individuals only qualify for benefits if they satisfy the reasons related to COVID-19 described above. This expansion dramatically alters, even on a temporary basis, the traditional rules for collecting unemployment benefits.

Additional Weeks and Increased Benefits

Individuals eligible for unemployment for COVID-19 related reasons will receive 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits, up to a maximum of 39 weeks. Most states provide 26 weeks of benefits, so employees in those states will to able to receive the 39-week maximum. For employees in states that do not provide 26 weeks of benefits, they will receive 13 weeks in addition to the standard number of benefit weeks. Employees in the few states that provide more than 26 weeks of benefits will only receive the maximum of 39 weeks. The additional benefit weeks provided by the CARES Act will expire on December 31, 2020.

In addition, qualifying individuals will receive an additional $600 per week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which is in addition to the standard amount of benefits that would otherwise be provided by state unemployment authorities. This additional benefit is available only until July 31, 2020.

Federal Funding and Waiver of Waiting Period

The CARES Act also provides for federal funding of most aspects of the programs established by the law. This includes funding for the payment of the additional $600 per week amount of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and the additional 13 weeks of benefits described above. In addition, the law incentivizes states to alter their unemployment programs to quicken the pace of providing benefits to individuals. For example, it provides for federal funding of the first week of benefits if states temporarily abolish the standard one-week waiting period for disbursing benefits to individuals until December 31, 2020.