Many changes to unemployment benefits are coming after Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package on Monday night and with the president expected to sign it into law this week.
Jobless Americans will soon get an extra $300 a week added to their benefits, while key unemployment programs will be extended, allowing people to receive benefits for longer. Some overpayments will be waived, and some workers may even get an extra $100 on top of the $300 a week.
“Honestly, this is a big step forward,” Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, told Yahoo Money. “There are a lot of things that could have been better, but I think that if you ask somebody who's unemployed and was about ready to lose everything ... this is good.”
Out of the $900 billion legislation, around $120 billion will go to the unemployment system, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Here’s everything you need to know.
The extra $300
Jobless Americans will get an additional $300 a week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) for 11 weeks through March 14. Both workers on Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will get the extra payment added to their core weekly unemployment benefits.
The payment will not be retroactive, as previously discussed by lawmakers. The weeks of no extra unemployment benefits after the expiration of the extra $600 under the CARES Act and the extra $300 under the Lost Wages Assitance (LWA) program will not be covered by the current legislation.
States will need some time to start sending out the additional payments, taking around two to three weeks to get it up and running, according to Evermore. Unemployed workers will likely see the extra payments in January, but starting dates will vary by state.
Extending benefits for contractors, self-employed, and others
The PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs were set to expire at the end of 2020, leaving around 12 million jobless workers without any unemployment benefits. Both of those programs will be extended under the new bill.
PUA currently provides benefits to over 9 million workers who would not otherwise qualify for regular benefits like contractors, self-employed, and other workers. The program will be extended by 11 weeks through March 14, allowing jobless Americans to get a maximum of 50 weeks under the program.
Workers already approved for the program who haven’t exhausted all the weeks to which they are entitled by March 14 will be able to collect for four additional weeks.
There may be a one- or two-week lapse in benefits for PUA and PEUC as state unemployment agencies reprogram their systems, Evermore said.
Eleven more weeks of benefits
The PEUC program now provides a total of 24 weeks of additional unemployment benefits under the new legislation. Previously, it was 13 weeks extra under the CARES Act. Jobless Americans can move to PEUC after they exhaust their regular state benefits, usually 26 weeks but that can vary depending on the state.
PEUC also expires on March 14, but workers that are already approved for the program who haven’t exhausted all the weeks to which they are entitled will be able to collect them for four more weeks.
When workers exhaust their additional PEUC weeks, they can move to Extended Benefits (EB) which provides an additional 13 to 20 weeks but the program is available only in states with higher unemployment rates. PUA recipients get only seven weeks of EB, which was added in the CARES Act.
The extension of the PEUC program brings the maximum number of weeks of unemployment benefits one can get to 70.
Extra $100 for the self-employed
Under the new legislation, some “mixed-income” earners, who get income from both traditional (W-2) and self-employed (1099) sources, will now be able to qualify for an extra $100 on top of the extra $300 a week.
To qualify for the benefit, they must make at least $5,000 of qualifying self-employment income annually. The extra $100 will be available until March 14.
This has been an issue for many who earn most of their income from 1099 sources, but got a small regular UI benefit because they received some traditional (W-2) income.
Waivers for overpayments
Under the new legislation, states will be able to waive PUA overpayments in the case of “equity and good conscience” or “overpayments made without fault on the part of the individual.” Therefore, if there was an honest mistake on the claimant’s side, the state has the right to waive the repayment of the benefits.
“New people, in an all-new system that, guidance changed a few times...states have been finding that there have been a lot of errors and issuing these overpayments,” Evermore said. “A lot of times it’s just stupid mistakes.”
Overpayments will also be waived for the LWA program, which provided an extra $300 in unemployment benefits a week after the president’s executive action. States will also have the right to waive the repayment of the benefits for this program.
New paperwork requirements
After January 31, new PUA applicants will have to submit wage records within 21 days. The deadline could be extended if the applicants can show good cause for missing that filing deadline.
Anyone who has enrolled in PUA will have 90 days to also provide proof of unemployment.
“There's language in there that says you won't necessarily get kicked off if you can't provide this documentation,” Evermore said. “You're just supposed to do it.”