Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act: Expansion of Unemployment Benefits Through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program

by Katie A. Collins
The Labor & Employment Law Blog

On March 27, 2020, the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Safety (CARES) Act was passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Trump as the largest emergency aid bill in history. The CARES Act significantly expands unemployment benefits and comes on the heels of 3.3 million Americans having applied for unemployment benefits last week. In California specifically, there were 186,809 claims for unemployment benefits to the Employment Development Department last week.

The CARES Act includes a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that is fully funded by the federal government. The assistance applies retroactively to January 27th and extends through December 31st, with a maximum of 39 weeks of assistance (inclusive of weeks when the employee received extended benefits or regular compensation). Individuals who are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits and those that can work remotely with pay are excluded from the program.

The program expands unemployment insurance to those who do not typically qualify, including gig economy workers who are classified as independent contractors and self-employed individuals. Specifically, benefits will be provided to any person who is unemployed or partially unemployed due to any of the following:

  • The individual has received a COVID-19 diagnosis, or is experiencing symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • The individual is providing care for a family member or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • The individual is the primary caregiver for a another person in the household who is unable to attend school or another facility due to COVID-19;
  • The individual is unable to reach the workplace because of a quarantine imposed due to COVID-19;
  • The individual was scheduled to begin work, but could not do so because the place they were scheduled to begin work at has been shut down due to COVID-19;
  • The individual lives in a household where the head of household died directly due to COVID-19;
  • The individual’s workplace has been closed because of COVID-19.

Individuals who are furloughed, but have not fully been laid off, are also eligible for unemployment benefits.

Every individual receiving unemployment benefits will be provided $600 per week, in addition to the weekly benefit amount authorized under state unemployment compensation law, for up to four months. Additionally, the program provides an extra thirteen weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits through the end of the year to assist individuals who remain unemployed after state unemployment benefits are no longer available.

For the standard unemployment benefits that the state remains responsible for, the federal government will provide payments to the state to reimburse government agencies, nonprofits, and Indian tribes for fifty percent of the costs they incur through the end of the year to pay unemployment benefits. For those states that decide to pay recipients of unemployment benefits as soon as they become unemployed, rather than waiting a week, the federal government will provide funding to pay the first week of unemployment benefits. This is applicable in California, as Governor Newsom has waived the first week waiting period, meaning that people will receive a full two weeks of benefits on their first unemployment benefits check, as opposed to one week. Further, for those states that offer “short-term compensation” programs for employees who have their hours reduced, California being one of them, the federal government will pay one hundred percent of the costs incurred by the state through the end of the year.

The attorneys at Weintraub Tobin continue to wish you and your families good health during these difficult times. Please feel free to reach out to one of us if you have any questions regarding this expansion of unemployment benefits and how that may relate to your workforce.