News & Insights

Department Of Labor Issues Guidance To State Unemployment Insurance Agencies That Expands Eligibility For Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

In response to a directive from President Biden, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has issued guidance to state unemployment insurance agencies that expands the number of instances in which workers can be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”). PUA is a federally funded unemployment expansion that was adopted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to provide unemployment benefits for certain individuals not otherwise entitled to state benefits and unemployed for COVID-19-related reasons.  The new DOL guidance reflects the Biden administration’s pledge to “ensure that unemployed Americans no longer have to choose between paying their bills and keeping themselves and their families safe from COVID-19.”

The DOL guidance expands unemployment benefits to three categories of workers:

  1. Workers receiving unemployment benefits who had their continued regular unemployment benefits’ claims denied after they refused to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite not in compliance with COVID-19 health and safety standards;
  2. Workers laid off or who have had their work hours reduced as a direct result of the pandemic; and
  3. School employees working without a contract or reasonable assurance of continued employment who face reduced paychecks and no assurance of continued pay when schools are closed due to COVID-19.

The revised PUA eligibility guidelines apply retroactively, meaning that individuals can receive retroactive payments dating back to the beginning of the PUA program in March 2020.  However, individuals filing their first initial PUA claim after Dec. 27, 2020, are limited to weeks of unemployment beginning on or after Dec. 6, 2020. Individuals must self-certify that they are unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of identified coronavirus-related reasons during the applicable time period. This new change means more Americans are now eligible for federal unemployment benefits.