DOL Clarifies Unemployment Insurance Benefit Eligibility Under CARES

By Caitlin Egeck, JD, HR & Compliance Consultant
Cascade Employers Association
[email protected]

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As of April 10, 2020, the US Department of Labor (DOL) has issued four new guidance letters providing clarity surrounding the unemployment compensation provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

It is important to note that in order to apply for UI benefits under CARES, it is the same application process as Oregon Unemployment Insurance (UI). Individuals who apply for Oregon UI will automatically have an application into CARES. Additionally, before going into detail regarding the guidance letters, it is important to make sense of the three different UI programs under the CARES Act:

Program Period of Applicability Program
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) Weeks of unemployment beginning after the date of state’s signed agreement* through 07/31/2020 Provides a federal benefit of $600 a week in addition to state unemployment insurance benefits.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) Weeks of unemployment from 03/13/2020 through 12/31/2020 Extends benefits for an extra 13 weeks after regular unemployment compensation benefits are exhausted.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Weeks of unemployment beginning on or after 01/27/2020 through 12/31/2020 Provides for up to 39 weeks of UI benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits under state or Federal law or PEUC - including those who have exhausted all rights to such benefits. Covered individuals also include self-employed, those seeking part-time employment, individuals lacking sufficient work history.
* In Oregon, FPUC is payable for weeks claimed beginning Sunday, March 29, 2020 through the week ending July 25, 2020.

The DOL Guidance Letter published on April 2, 2020 explains the order that individuals should apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits listed in the table above. Specifically, individuals who may be eligible for UI programs:

  1. Must first apply for and receive state UI benefits. The amount and duration is dependent upon state law. Individuals awarded regular benefits may receive an additional $600 per week under FPUC benefits.
  2. If the individual exhausts regular UI benefits, they may receive additional UI benefits through PEUC for up to an additional 13 weeks.

The DOL Guidance Letter published on April 4, 2020 provides clarification surrounding FPUC, the additional $600 federal weekly UI benefit. Notably, the letter explains that FPUC benefits are available to individuals collecting any amount of state-funded UI. Specifically, individuals who are “eligible to receive at least one dollar ($1) of underlying [state] benefits for the claimed week will receive the full $600 FPUC.”

However, if an individual is not entitled to receive state-funded UI benefits in any given week (i.e., the individual has performed part-time work where they earn more than their weekly benefit amount), the individual will not be eligible for regular UI benefits or FPUC benefits. Employers who may have to reduce employees’ schedules might want to look into Oregon’s Workshare program because employees would still receive partial regular wages and partial UI benefits, which would in turn make those employees eligible for the additional $600 per week under CARES. Information on Oregon’s Workshare program can be found here.

The DOL Guidance Letter published on April 5, 2020 clarified the PUA program. Specifically, PUA provides benefits to individuals who are not eligible for regular unemployment compensation. See above table for specifics. The guidance confirms that only individuals impacted by one of the COVID-19 related reasons listed below qualify for PUA benefits. It also clarifies that benefits are not payable to individuals who have the ability to telework with pay, or who are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.

However, the DOL did note that an individual “receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits for less than [their] customary work week” or who “has been offered the option of teleworking with pay and does telework with pay, but is working less than the individual customarily worked prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” still may be eligible for at least reduced weekly PUA benefits.

The COVID-19-related reasons under PUA include:

  • An individual who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis may include:
    • An individual who has to quit [their] job as a direct result of COVID-19 because the individual has tested positive for the coronavirus or has been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and continuing work activities, such as through telework, is not possible by virtue of such diagnosis or condition; or
    • An individual who has to quit [their] job due to coming in direct contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus or has been diagnosed by a medical professional as having COVID-19, and, on the advice of a qualified medical health professional is required to resign from [their] position in order to quarantine.
  • An individual who is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, for purposes of Section 2102, may include:
    • An individual who is “providing care” to a family member when the provision of such care requires such ongoing and constant attention that the individual’s ability to perform other work functions is severely limited.
    • However, an individual who is assisting a family member who is able to adequately care for him or herself is not “providing care” under this category.

Finally, the DOL Guidance Letter published on April 10, 2020 provides states with operating, financial, and reporting instructions for the PEUC program.

When responding to employee inquiries about their eligibility for unemployment benefits, it’s important not to guarantee their eligibility as the ultimate determination will be made by the state based on individual circumstances.

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. Our team is prepared to answer your questions.

 

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