Understanding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Update: The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has issued a Frequently Asked Questions page on their website to assist self-employed individuals filing for unemployment benefits.

The Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act now includes a new type of unemployment insurance for contractors, freelancers, self-employed workers and other people who typically do not qualify for standard unemployment coverage.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program will provide emergency support for those typically ineligible for their state’s standard unemployment coverage, those who have already exhausted their benefits, or those unable to work due to circumstances caused by COVID-19.

Who is ineligible for special PUA?

  • Individuals eligible for their state’s normal unemployment benefits
  • Individuals who have the ability to telework with pay
  • Individuals receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits

When do PUA benefits start?

The program runs from January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Up to 39 weeks of benefits are available. Benefits can be received retroactively for qualifying applicants. Eligibility ends on December 31, 2020, unless the program is later extended.

How do I apply for PUA?

To apply you start at your state unemployment offices (Tennessee’s labor department here). Even if you are traditionally ineligible (self-employed, independent contractor, limited work history, others) begin the standard unemployment insurance application process, and apply for PUA. Visit our previous blog for guidance here.

Be prepared to provide self-certification that you are partially or fully unemployed OR are unable to work because of one of the following circumstances:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and are seeking diagnosis
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • You are providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19
  • You are providing care for a child who can’t attend school or another caregiving facility because it is closed due to COVID-19
  • You are quarantined or have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine
  • You were scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or cannot reach your place of employment as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak
  • You have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household has died as a direct result of COVID-19
  • You had to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19
  • Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19

Do PUA recipients get other benefits from the CARES Act?

If you qualify for PUA, you may also qualify for:

  • The Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC): An additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): An extension of up to 13 weeks of coverage provided to unemployed individuals who have exhausted their regular unemployment coverage (in most cases, 26 weeks). The extended time will be paid at the same rate as PUC: state unemployment plus $600 per week. This benefit is available through December 31, 2020.

If I do not qualify for PUA, are there other benefits under the CARES Act I may qualify for?

If you do not qualify for PUA but do qualify for traditional state unemployment benefits, you probably still qualify for the extra benefits available under PUC or PEUC, as defined above.