On Friday evening, April 10, 2020, Governor Tom Wolf announced important progress by the Commonwealth in implementing supplemental unemployment benefits made available by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These new benefits will bring desperately needed relief to unemployed workers throughout the Commonwealth.
- Beginning this week, all Pennsylvanians receiving unemployment compensation (UC) benefits will also begin to receive Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), a $600 per week supplemental benefit payable through the end of July.
- Pennsylvanians who usually fall outside of the UC system – gig workers, independent contractors, self-employed persons and workers with limited work history– will be eligible for benefits through a supplemental program, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Applications for this program are expected to be available in two weeks.
Supplemental $600 payments
Lost in the news of the cash stimulus payments being sent out by the Internal Revenue Service is the significantly larger stimulus payments that will be delivered by the UC system. Everyone receiving UC benefits or PUA benefits in ANY amount will also receive a supplemental payment of $600 per week, from the week ending April 4, 2020 through the week ending July 25, 2020. People receiving all 17 weeks of these PUC payments will gross an additional $ 10,200. These payments will be made automatically, without a separate application.
“At a time of unfathomable and unexpected unemployment, the extra $600 per week will alleviate anxieties about paying the rent and filling the refrigerator, as well as inject many millions of dollars into our local communities,” said Sharon M. Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services. “Given that this benefit is scheduled to end in late July, everyone who is unemployed or who has reduced wages and hours should apply for UC immediately.”
Applications for UC benefits can be filed at www.uc.pa.gov and the application is available 24/7. For Pennsylvania workers who have struggled to apply online through their phones or who need language assistance, Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA) provides an Unemployment Compensation Application Service Hotline to help them their initial application for UC benefits. It can be reached Monday through Friday at (215) 999-6910.
Benefits for Workers Ineligible for UC
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is an unprecedented program intended to provide benefits to those workers who have fallen through the gaps of the UC system. Congress created PUA in recognition that without supplemental coverage, millions of workers would be left without resources at a time when there is no work to be had. PUA will cover:
- Gig workers, such as ridesharing drivers;
- “Independent contractors,” whether truly working for themselves or misclassified by employers not wanting to submit their payroll taxes;
- Self-employed workers, such as painters, hair stylists, housecleaners and others who have worked for themselves;
- Small business owners, whose main source of income came from their business;
- People whose wage histories are too limited or recent to qualify them for benefits under UC “base year” rules;
- New entrants to the workforce expecting to start jobs that have been withdrawn.
Workers who followed the passage of CARES have been struggling without access to benefits, and are desperately awaiting the start of PUA. Because PUA is a brand new program that will operate outside the standard UC system, the Commonwealth has had to design it and plan implementation, while still processing more than a million new UC claims. On Friday, the Commonwealth issued a FAQ about the program and announced that it expects the PUA application to be available in the next two weeks. The program runs from January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020 and will be retroactive to a worker’s last day of work within that time period.
Julia Simon-Mishel, Supervising Attorney of the Unemployment Compensation Unit at PLA, said, “While we believe many of these workers should be covered under Pennsylvania UC law, the creation of PUA will meet the immediate needs of hurting workers by putting money in their pockets while they are out of work. Given that our current system excludes so many 21st Century models of work, PUA is an essential program and the announcement that applications will be available within 2 weeks comes as welcome news to thousands of workers across the Commonwealth.”
PUA applicants will not be required to apply for UC first. They will be asked to provide documentation of their self-employment and their earnings. Benefits will mirror those paid in the UC program, with a minimum weekly benefit of $195, plus the $600 supplement.