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Expansion of Unemployment Insurance: Changes under COVID-19

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

T + T

Summary

The CARES Act of 2020 expanded Unemployment Insurance benefits to all 50 states. It created three separate benefits, one benefit ending July 2020 and the other two benefits ending December 27, 2020. However, all three benefits were extended through March 14, 2021 with the signing of the stimulus package on December 27, 2020. The three expansions included:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – expands the type of worker who can qualify for Unemployment Insurance;
  • Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – increases the amount of weekly benefits a qualifying individual may receive;
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – increases the number of weeks a qualifying individual can receive benefits.

This section covers the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefit, which assists workers typically not eligible for benefits under the traditional UI program. -

If you are a Benefits Plus subscriber, for additional information on Unemployment Insurance Benefits, refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits. For subscription information visit: https://bplc.cssny.org/home/subscription_options.

Regular Unemployment Insurance Benefits Vs. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Claimants who qualify for regular UI benefits will receive such benefits; they cannot elect to choose PUA benefits. Claimants who do not qualify for regular UI benefits will be evaluated under the PUA qualifying guidelines and if they qualify, will receive such benefits.

Individuals in receipt of regular UI benefits or PUA benefits are entitled to the additional $300 per week of Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which has become available through March 14, 2021, see below, Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

Description of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

THE BASICS

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a cash benefit to individuals not typically covered regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, but who have lost employment due to the COVID-19 crisis. It is a temporary program that is currently extended through March 14, 2021, unless the U.S. Congress enacts new legislation.

BENEFIT AMOUNT

The minimum PUA benefit amount is $182 per week and the maximum payment amount is $504 per week. The minimum PUA benefit rate is calculated differently from the regular UI benefit and is based on 50% of the average weekly benefit amount in New York. For minimum and maximum benefit amounts under regular UI, refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Description of Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Benefit Amount.

Incorrect Benefit Amounts

Claimants who believe they are entitled to a higher benefit may provide additional wage information to the DOL and request a Reconsideration, refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Advocacy and Appeals, Requesting a Reconsideration – Incorrect Earnings Information. The DOL will consider whether to increase their benefit amount.

LENGTH OF PUA BENEFITS

Qualifying PUA recipients are currently entitled up to a maximum of 50 weeks of benefits, which includes the original 39 weeks of PUA benefits as detailed under the original CARES Act (see https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance) plus up to an additional 11 weeks as detailed under the new stimulus package through March 14, 2021. Please note that the NYS DOL website indicates PUA recipients are entitled to 57 weeks of PUA benefits
(https://dol.ny.gov/pandemic-unemployment-assistance).

Note

PUA recipients are not entitled to the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or NYS’ Extended Benefits, which extends the length of time of unemployment benefits. Both these benefits are only available to regular UI claimants. For a description of both, see below, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits".

FREQUENCY OF BENEFIT

Benefits are provided on a weekly basis, when the individual certifies that s/he meets the qualifications, see below, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Certifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

FORM OF THE BENEFIT

Individuals can select to receive benefits either through a debit card or direct deposit (deposited directly into the claimant’s checking account). Claimants will select their choice when they first file a claim.

Claimants will be able to change from direct debit card to direct deposit, or vice versa, by going to their online account and sign on with their NY.GOV ID username and password.

Claimants may find ATM’s to access their benefit payment without any fees at ALL point ATM locator at https://www.key.com/locations/search.

RETROACTIVE BENEFITS

If eligible, claims will be backdated to the date the claimant became unemployed, and they will be paid for all benefits due.

TAXATION OF PUA

Both PUA and Unemployment Insurance are subject to Federal, New York State and local taxes, provided the individual is required to file a tax return. Claimants have the option of having their Federal and/or State tax withheld from their benefits to help offset their yearly income tax liability.

Qualifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

EXPANDED ELIGIBILITY TO NON-TRADITIONAL WORKERS

PUA provides unemployment insurance benefits to workers not traditionally eligible for traditional UI benefits including the self-employed, independent contractors, freelancers, gig workers, farmers workers with a limited work history (although must have some earnings in the previous 12 months), and those who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus public health emergency. Coronavirus related reasons include those who:

  • Are diagnosed with COVID-19 or with COVID-19 symptoms and seeking diagnosis;
    • This is only for individuals who have taken unpaid medical leave, when they took unpaid medical leave for reasons related to COVID-19
    • If receiving paid medical leave, the individual is not eligible.
  • Have a member of the household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • Are providing care for family or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
    • This is only for individuals who have taken unpaid family and medical leave, when they took unpaid leave for reasons related to COVID-19
  • Are the primary caregiver for a child unable to attend school or another facility closed due to COVID-19;
    • However, these workers cannot continue to collect after the school year ends, absent some other qualifying circumstance.
  • Are unable to reach place of employment due to an imposed quarantine or because advised by medical provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
  • Was scheduled to commence new employment and cannot reach workplace as direct result of COVID-19;
  • Became a major breadwinner because the head of household died from COVID-19;
  • Quit job as a direct result of COVID-19;
    • Must quit as a result of ‘good cause.’
    • Good cause includes when an employee refuses to return to work because they are at high risk from the virus and their employer cannot or does not make reasonable accommodations for them. DOL staff would review those reasons and make determinations based on the facts of the individual cases.
      • It is important to document worker’s request for accommodations and the employer’s failure to accommodate.
  • Had their place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19;
    • Employees who telework with full pay are not eligible.
  • Is self-employed/Independent Contractors/1099 filers/Farmers affected by COVID-19
    • Must have recorded earnings.
  • Has insufficient work history and affected by COVID-19;
    • This includes individuals who do not qualify for traditional UI benefits because of insufficient work history, and lost job as a result of COVID-19;
    • Otherwise not qualified for regular UI benefits and affect by COVID-19.
Note

Individuals receiving traditional UI benefits may be unable to return to work for reasons listed above. If this is the case, they would be eligible to continue to receive ongoing regular UI benefits.

PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS

Ready, Willing and Able to Work

NYS DOL rules state that claimants must be ready, willing and able to work. During the COVID crisis, the DOL has published the following statement on their website for individuals completing an application for benefits, “We understand that many of you are unable to work due to COVID-19 pandemic. If you would otherwise be able to work, you should answer “yes” in order to receive your benefits.”

However, the NYS DOL has not suspended work search activities. Claimants should keep a log of all work search activities, especially as the economy starts to reopen once again. The DOL Unemployment Handbook available at https://www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/ui/TC318.3e.pdf provides information on work search activities.

When Sheltering in/Moving to Another State/Another Country

Claimants who have moved to another state or who are sheltering in another state must notify DOL that they are no longer in NYS. Claimants should send notification through the secure e-mail system through the claimant’s NY.gov ID account. The DOL will decide whether the claimant can continue to collect benefits.

Claimants should not claim benefits if residing or traveling outside the U.S., nor should they attempt to have others certify for benefits. Upon discovery, the DOL may fine and deny benefits to the claimant.

Good Cause for Not Returning to Work

As the economy reopens some individuals may have concerns regarding returning to work. Claimants are entitled to continue to collect UI benefits if they have “good cause,” for not taking a job, for example a safety and health issue. If a claimant believes their employer has not done enough to ensure the safety of workers during the pandemic, they may be entitled to continuing benefits. However, claimants must make every attempt to negotiate with their employer to ensure safety protocols are put into place, and should document and retain records of these interactions to make available to DOL. Some claimants may have concerns regarding riding the subways. Employers cannot ensure safety on subways, but claimants who are immunocompromised should attempt to obtain documentation from medical professionals indicating their condition and the risk factor of traveling by subway. The claimant may also want to show they attempted to work with their employer for other potential travel accommodations. DOL will make the determination whether the individual will be able to continue to receive benefits based on “good cause.”

Applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Note

Whether the claimant is eligible for regular UI or PUA, the start of the application process is the same.

Advocacy Tip

Individuals who are uncertain as to whether they qualify for UI or PUA benefits should file a claim. The NYS DOL will determine whether an individual qualifies or not.
If an individual wants to clarify their current situation during the application process, they should contact the DOL via their NY.gov ID account through the secure e-mail messaging system. This will ensure that they made every effort to be honest and made no attempt to defraud the DOL. See below, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Checking the Status of the Claim.

WHEN TO FILE

Claimants should file the first week they worked less than 4 days and earned less than $504.

Late Filing

During the application process, claimants should indicate the date of their unemployment, even if more than several weeks have passed since becoming unemployed. The NYS DOL assures that all claimants will receive retroactive benefits to the date of last employed.

HOW TO FILE

Online vs. Phone

Claimants should file online https://applications.labor.ny.gov. Claimants must establish a NY.gov ID by creating username & password, if the claimant does not already have one.

Telephone Claims Center by phone at 1-888-209-8124
Claim Center Hours: Monday through Friday: 8 am to 7:30 pm
Saturday & Sunday: 7:30 am to 8:00 pm

For the Hearing Impaired

Helper may call the Telephone Claims Center at 1-888-783-1370.
TTY/TDD: Call a relay operator first at 1-800-662-1220, and ask the operator to call the Telephone Claims Center at 1-888-783-1370.

Note

For an introduction to filing for UI benefits from the NYS DOL, visit: https://dol.ny.gov/unemployment/file-your-first-claim-benefits.

Needed Information

The NYS DOL suggests having the following information available when the claimant is ready to file. Having these documents ready will speed the application process.

  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license or Motor Vehicle ID card number
  • Complete mailing address and zip code
  • A phone number where DOL can reach the claimant from 8 am – 5 pm, Monday –Friday
  • Alien Registration card number (if not a U.S. Citizen and claimants has a card)
  • Names and addresses of all your employers for the last 18 months, including those in other states
  • Employer Registration number or Federal Employer Identification Number of most recent employer (found on your W-2 forms)
  • If a federal employee, copies of forms SF8 and SF50,
  • Most recent separation form (DD 214), for military service

Completing the Application

Upon completing the application, all claimants, whether eligible for traditional UI or PUA, will receive a confirmation notice, which includes a confirmation number. If possible, the claimant should print the confirmation notice, screen shot it to save on their computer, or copy the confirmation number down. Claimants may also receive a confirmation notice in their account’s ‘In Box.’

PUA applicants will receive an additional set of questions they must complete. The NYS DOL will send a link to the applicant’s NY.gov ID account’s InBox. PUA applicants should continue to check their InBox for this link. They may also be asked to upload supporting documents to verify their eligibility for PUA.

Upon completing the second set of questions for PUA, the claimant will receive a PUA application confirmation with the date they completed the application. Again, they should print this notice or screen shot it to save on their computer. If needed, the DOL will contact the claimant if any additional information is required, typically they will contact the individual through their NY.gov ID account, or they may contact the applicant via a phone call.

Note

During the application process some questions may be difficult to answer correctly. If applicants are uncertain how to answer the questions, they should explain and disclose any information through the secure e-mail system on their NY.gov ID account to clarify their answers. For example, some businesses may remain partly open with some employees furloughed and some employees still working. Furloughed workers (employees whose employers temporarily closed their place of business due to COVID-19, but whose employer intends to rehire them once the emergency has been lifted) do qualify for benefits and they should indicate in the secure e-mail system on their NY.gov ID account that they have been furloughed, while their business remains partly open.

Responding to DOL

DOL may need additional information from the claimant to process the individual’s claim and they will reach out to the claimant to obtain it. The DOL will send messages, instructions, questionnaires through the claimant’s Inbox on their NY.gov ID account; therefore claimants should check their “InBox” regularly. DOL may also communicate via a phone call or through the U.S. mail. Failure to respond to the DOL will likely delay their claim or may result in a denial or suspension of their benefits.

Helpful Tips When Filing

  • Include Phone Number in the Application
    • Many DOL representatives are working from home, so caller ID may show “PRIVATE CALLER.” Anyone calling from DOL will verify their identity by providing the date of the claim that was filed and the type of claim filed.
  • Honesty is the Best Policy
    • If there is a dispute with DOL the claimant will be able to provide a defense as to how they answered.
    • If not able to provide a defense, and the DOL questions and determines the information is inaccurate, it could trigger penalties.
    • Attempt to clarify information through the NY.gov ID account’s secure e-mail messaging system.
  • If having trouble logging into the DOL account, visit: https://www.labor.ny.gov/ui/Authentication/general/technical-support-solutions.shtm for tips on problem solving.
    • Individuals who have a NY.gov ID account who are having trouble logging in should call 888-469-7365, and press the number associated with their language.
  • NYS DOL maintains a twitter account at https://twitter.com/NYSLabor.
    • They periodically post notices and important information for claimants.

Helping a Person Apply

For those who assist claimants to apply for benefits visit: https://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/factsheets/pdfs/P808.pdf.

Checking the Status of the Claim

PUA claimants who have been waiting for an eligibility determination after filing the application may check the status of the claim by logging into their NY.gov ID account, locate the box with the title “Unemployment Insurance,” which allows the claimant to

  • File a claim
  • Claim weekly benefits
  • View payment history
  • Change their direct deposit information
  • View/print 1099/G and change their tax withholding information

Claimants should click on “Unemployment Services” located in the lower right-hand corner. Next, they should click on “View Payment History.” The next screen will be the claimant’s Official Record of Benefit Payment History. It will include the following:

  • Claimant’s name,
  • Claimant’s Social Security number,
  • Effective date of the claim (the date the claimant’s benefit year begins) and the claimant’s benefit year end date,
  • Weekly benefit amount
  • Maximum amount payment (this is the weekly benefit amount multiplied by 26 weeks, however, don’t forget that under Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation it can be extended an additional 13 weeks, see below, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation), and
  • Effective days remaining (there are 4 effective days in each calendar week; multiply 4 x days 26 weeks = 104. 104 is the maximum number of effective days in a claimant’s account)

The record will also indicate whether the claim is pending, which means no payment has been made. Once the claim is approved, additional information regarding the $300 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation is included on the page.

Note

Under regular UI benefits there is typically a waiting week before the claimant can begin collecting benefits. Under the CARES Act this waiting week has been waived. If a claimant sees the term “waiting week” on their payment history, it is a remnant of their regular UI system, and does not impact his/her benefits.

Receipt of Benefits

TIME FRAME

The NYS DOL states that the claimant’s first payment will generally be made three to four weeks from the time they filed their claim, although for some it may take longer. Individuals will not receive benefit during this time. Individuals should check their DOL account online to find out if their claim status is “pending.” See above, Checking the Status of the Claim.

Certifying for Benefits

Claimants should certify for benefits for each week s/he remains unemployed as soon as they receive notification from the DOL to do so. See below, Certifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Retroactive Benefits

Claims filed will be backdated to the date the claimant became unemployed. If the claimant is eligible, they will be paid for all benefits due. DOL indicates that the first payment should include retroactive benefits.

MONETARY BENEFIT DETERMINATION NOTICE

Claimants will receive a Monetary Benefit Determination notice indicating they are not eligible for regular UI, and the notice will indicate they are entitled to $0. This is confusing, as some PUA claimants will have already begun receiving benefits and will not understand why they are receiving this notice and what it means. NYS is required, under federal requirements, to send claimants who are ineligible for regular UI this Monetary Benefits Determination notice. Since PUA applicants are not eligible for regular UI benefits, they will receive such notice. However, PUA claimants do not need to take any action upon receipt of this notice; it does not mean they are ineligible for PUA benefits. The DOL will subsequently send a second Monetary Benefit Determination notice to PUA beneficiaries explaining their benefit amount under PUA.

Upon receipt of the second Monetary Benefit Determination notice, which explains their benefits under PUA, claimants should review the information for accuracy. If corrections are needed, such as increasing the benefit amount because of missing wage information, they should complete a Request for Reconsideration form and return it.

If a claimant believes some of their earnings were missed, they can contact DOL to have them review their record. Claimants should complete the Request for Reconsideration form and return it along with supporting proof of earnings documentation by fax, mail or online. To submit online, log in at www.labor.ny.gov/signin. Select “Go to My Inbox” and then “Compose New.” Select “Submit Documents” for the first subject line and “PUA Request for Reconsideration” for the second subject line. Select “Attach File” and upload a digital copy of your documents. Then select “Send.” For more information refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Advocacy and Appeals, Requesting a Reconsideration – Incorrect Earnings Information.

NOTICE OF DETERMINATION

A Notice of Determination will indicate that a claimant was denied benefits. Individuals denied benefits may request an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing. Refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Advocacy and Appeals, Requesting an Administrative Law Judge Hearing for more information.

Certifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

HOW TO CERTIFY

When to Begin the Certification Process

A claimant can start certifying as soon as they receive word from the NYS DOL to do so. Individual may certify online or by telephone.

Online Certification

Claimants should go to their NY.gov ID account and locate the box with the title “Unemployment Services” on the “My Online Services” page, click “Claim Weekly Benefits” and follow the instructions.

The claimant will answer a series of questions. Upon completion, the system will notify the claimant that they completed certification for the previous week.

Via Phone

Claimants may call 833-324-0366. This phone number is for PUA recipients only, it is not for regular UI beneficiaries.

MISSED CERTIFICATIONS

Some claimants may have missed weeks of weekly certifications, either because they filed late or did not realize they should have been certifying. The NYS DOL has begun to identify and contact New Yorkers who are missing weekly certifications. Claimants should also contact DOL to obtain credit for the weeks they missed, as follows:

  • InBox – sign their NY.gov ID account at https://labor/ny/signin. Go to “Messages” and click “Go to My In Box.” Click the menu button (the square with three lines) and select “Compose New” and then select subject: “filing a UI claim,” and then second subject, “I Want to Request Backdating of My Claim.”
  • Fax – 518-457-9387
  • Mail – NYS Department of Labor
    PO Box 15130
    Albany, NY 12212-5130

The letter should include the individual’s name, address, telephone number, the last 4 digits of their Social Security number on the upper right hand corner of the paper, the period for which credit is being requested (the beginning and end dates of the time period for which the claimant did not claim benefits) and the and the reason why s/he did not claim benefit for that period of time. The circumstances will be investigated, and a determination will be made regarding eligibility for benefits.

In addition, the DOL may request that certain claimants certify again. Claimants should answer any questions accurately to receive all entitled benefits back to the first day of unemployment.

Reporting Work Activity/Earnings

NEW Rule

Claimants are required to report any work activity during the previous week when claiming weekly UI benefits. If the claimant fails to report this information accurately, there could be possible fraud charges.

Beginning Sunday, January 24, 2021 (for the week of January 18 through January 24) New York State has implemented a new rule for how part-time work affects unemployment benefits. This change impacts beneficiaries of both regular Unemployment Insurance benefits, as well as PUA benefits. For the DOL fact sheet visit: https://dol.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2021/01/p803.pdf.

A UI or PUA beneficiary can work up to 30 hours per week (while earning $504 or less in gross pay in the previous week) and receive a partial UI benefit. Claimants who work 31 or more hours in a week or who earn more than $504 in gross earnings per week are not entitled to benefits.

UI or PUA benefits will be reduced proportionally based on the number of days the UI beneficiary is engaged in work. However, NYS DOL implements an “hours-based” approach for reporting work. That is, how days are counted depends on the number of hours the beneficiary is engaged in work. The formula for days worked is as follows:

  • If working 4 or less hours per week – report 0 days worked; there will be no reduction in the weekly benefit rate;
  • If working 5 – 10 hours per week – report 1 day worked; will receive 75% of the beneficiary’s weekly benefit rate;
  • If working 11 – 20 hours per week – report 2 days worked; will receive 50% of the beneficiary’s weekly benefit rate;
  • If working 21 – 30 hours per week – report 3 days worked; will receive 25% of the beneficiary’s weekly benefit rate;
  • If working 31+ hours per week; report 4 days worked; will not be entitled to a UI benefit for the week.

Beneficiaries should round total hours worked for the week up to the nearest hour. Beneficiaries who work more than 10 hours in one day should only report the first 10 hours from that day in their weekly total.

This new rule does not change the $504 gross weekly payments rule. That is, beneficiaries who earn more than $504 in gross weekly earnings are not eligible for regular UI or PUA benefits regardless of the number of hours worked. For regular UI beneficiaries the $504 limit earnings limitation excludes earnings from self-employment, but for PUA beneficiaries, earnings from self-employment will be included to the $504 limit.

REPORTING DAYS OF WORK

During the certification/claiming process claimants will be asked how many days, if any, they worked in the previous week. Claimants should refer to the number of hours listed above to determine how their weekly hours worked translate to the number of days to report.

Case Example

Joy is collecting PUA benefits of $455 per week. She recently was hired for a part-time position at a local grocery store for three days a week. She works 12 hours on Saturday, 5.5 hours on Tuesdays and 5.5 hours on Thursday. This is a total of 21 hours (10 hours for Saturday + 11 hours for Tuesday and Thursday). According to the chart above Joy is only working 2 days per week and she should report 2 days of work. Her PUA benefit will be reduced by 50%.

REPORTING DAYS OF WORK INCORRECTLY

Beneficiaries who fail to use the new formula and report the number of days worked for the previous week incorrectly, should contact the NYS DOL so they can correct any errors and ensure the beneficiary receives all benefits they are entitled to.

Contacting the NYS Department of Labor

Claimants who want to contact the NYS DOL should go to their Inbox found on their NY.gov ID account. Find the box labeled “Messages.” Once there they can click on the drop-down box and compose a new message. The Inbox is also where DOL can send secure e-mails to the claimant. The claimant should check their Inbox frequently.

In addition, claimants can contact the Claimant Advocate Office at 855-528-5618. To learn more visit: https://dol.ny.gov/unemployment-insurance-claimant-advocate-office. For a fact sheet visit: https://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/factsheets/pdfs/P831.pdf.