A series of new very beneficial unemployment benefits are coming from the massive coronavirus relief law—much more money for many more people.
Our blog post last week was about the emergency $1,200 Economic Impact Payment that’s “rapidly” coming to most American adults. (Plus $500 for each qualifying dependent child.) For updates on this payment since then, see the IRS’ special “Coronavirus Tax Relief” webpage. That links you to its News Release IR-2020-61, which came out on March 30, 2020. It was modified and updated on April 1, specifically about Social Security recipients.
Today’s blog post is about the new highly beneficial unemployment benefits within the same law. The $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES”) includes about $260 Billion for expanded unemployment benefits. Although that’s only about one-eighth of the whole package, it’s still a huge amount of money. By way of comparison, $260 Billion is almost 40% of last year’s entire defense budget.
These new unemployment benefits include the following distinct components.
Larger Checks—Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
Individuals who already qualify for unemployment benefits under state law will get an additional $600 per week. The states will pay, with money the federal government will provide, this extra $600 per week in addition to the regular amount of unemployment benefit. Section 2104 of CARES.
This is quite a big increase, especially compared to the usual weekly amount. That usual amount varies widely. In Connecticut the maximum benefit is $631, in Florida it’s $275. No matter your state, the additional $600 per week is a very meaningful increase in the benefit.
Longer Payment Period—Extended Unemployment Compensation
Individuals usually get up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits under state law. Some states provide less. For example, Florida gives only 12 weeks of benefits. CARES adds up to 13 more weeks of benefits, for up to 39 weeks of benefits. Section 2102(c)(2) of CARES.
These additional weeks of benefits include BOTH the regular state unemployment benefit amount PLUS the $600 per week referred to above. Section 2102(d)(1)(A) of CARES.
Extension of Exhausted Benefits—Available to Work but Can’t Find Work
The new law also reinstates unemployment benefits for those “have exhausted all rights to regular compensation under the State law or under Federal law” for the benefit year. This assumes that the individual is “able to work, available to work, and actively seeking work.” Section 2107(a)(2) of CARES.
The unemployment benefit amount under this part of the law includes the regular state-determined weekly amount plus $600, as discussed above. Section 2107(a)(4) of CARES.
Pandemic-Related Individuals—Virtually Everyone Who’s Impacted
The law gives unemployment benefits to a wide array of individuals affected by the health emergency, covering 10 categories. An individual who doesn’t otherwise qualify for the unemployment benefits receives them by providing a “self-certification.” It must state that he or she is “unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because” of the following conditions. The individual:
- has received a diagnosis of COVID-19 or has symptoms and is currently undergoing diagnosis
- has a household member who has a diagnosis of COVID-19
- is caring for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19
- has a child or other dependent who can’t go to school or a care facility because of the health emergency
- can’t get to the workplace because of a quarantine
- can’t get to the workplace because of being “advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19”
- was to return to work but can’t because of the health emergency
- became the “breadwinner or major support for a household “because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID–19”
- “has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID–19”
- lost a job because the “place of employment is no longer open as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency”
Section 2102(a)(3)(A) of CARES.
Consistent with the other parts of the law, the amount of weekly benefit is the regular state-determined amount plus $600. Section 2102(d)(1)(A) of CARES.
Nontraditional Workers Get Benefits—More “Covered Individuals”
Self-employed and independent contractors are usually not covered by state unemployment benefits. Very significantly, many of the benefits we’re discussing here do apply to these nontraditional workers. The law says that
The term “covered individual”—(A) means an individual who
(II) is self-employed, is seeking part-time employment, does not have sufficient work history, or otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment or extended benefits under State or Federal law or pandemic emergency unemployment compensation under section 2107 and meets the requirements of subclause (I)
Section 2102(d)(1)(A) of CARES. The reference to Section 2107 is to those who already qualify for benefits otherwise, as discussed two sections above. The other reference to subclause (l) is to the list of 10 COVID-19-related circumstances listed in the section immediately above. So the self-employed and independent contractors receive unemployment benefits if they fit any of the 10 conditions.
However, these benefits to the self-employed and independent contractors are not available to those who can work remotely—who can “telework with pay.” Also individuals “receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits” don’t qualify. That’s true even if they fit into any of the 10 COVID-19-related categories discussed above.