New federal laws and Unemployment – Help when COVID-19 stops you from working

Produced by Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed October 15, 2020

On March 27 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law

This response to the corona virus added:

  1. $600 to the amount of Unemployment Insurance (UI) you get every week between March 29th and July 25th 2020.
  2. 13 more weeks of federal UI benefits to the number of weeks you can already get in state UI. This 13-week extension is called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).
  3. Another 13 weeks of federal benefits after PEUC runs out. These benefits are called Extended Benefits or EB. Some workers can get EB after the PEUC runs out.
  4. A new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for workers who do not normally qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance.

Additionally, Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) available through FEMA adds $300 weekly to your UI amount for certain workers who were unemployed during week ending August 1 through September 5, 2020.

How do these changes help me and what do I have to do?

If you get Unemployment Insurance now

You do not have to do anything different. Just keep recertifying. Every week you were unemployed since March 29, you should get an extra $600/week until July 25th . And if you were unemployed starting August 1st , and your UI check from any source is $100 or more (counting the dependency allowance), you should get an extra $300/week in Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) on September 15, 2020 back to the weeks ending August 1, 2020 to September 5, 2020.

When you were approved for UI, the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) also approved up to 26 weeks for you to get UI. Once 26 weeks passes, you should get 13 more weeks automatically from the federal PEUC program. And after you have used up PEUC, you may be eligible for up to 13 more weeks of Extended Benefits (EB), depending on how many weeks you collected UI.

If you had to stop working because of COVID-19

Apply for Unemployment Insurance as soon as you can.

Do I apply for regular UI or PUA?

Regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) 

Regular UI is the program for Massachusetts regular employees who lost their jobs before COVID-19. If you are a regular employee and you lost your job due to COVID-19 apply to this program. "Regular employees" have taxes withheld from their pay and get a W-2 form. 

Once your state checks run out, you can also get 13 weeks of federal extended UI benefits or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC for any claim you applied for after July 7, 2018.

If you use up all your PEUC benefits, you may be able to get up to 13 weeks of Extended Benefits or EB. EB is related to the number of weeks of regular UI you got.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) 

PUA is a temporary unemployment insurance program. Congress created this program to help workers who are not eligible for "regular unemployment insurance."

Apply for regular unemployment insurance if

  1. You were earning $5,100 or more from an employer in the last 4 completed calendar quarters, approximately the past year, and
  2. Your employer was withholding taxes from your paycheck or gave you a W-2 form for your taxes, and
    • your loss of income is due to COVID-19, or
    • for reasons that had nothing to do with COVID-19, you were laid off, quit for good cause, you had urgent, personal reasons for leaving your job, or you were fired for misconduct or breaking a rule or that you did not do on purpose.

You cannot get regular UI if:

  • You can work from home and get paid,
  • You are getting paid leave from your employer, or
  • You are not a citizen and you do not have work authorization


Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) if

You lost income due to COVID-19 and:

  • You do not qualify for regular unemployment insurance because of the kind of work you do. Or
  • You cannot get regular UI because:
    • You already used up your regular UI, the 13 week PEUC extension, and the 13 week EB extension, if you were eligible for it.
    • Before you left work due to COVID-19, you were disqualified from regular UI when you lost your prior job and now you cannot get the 8 weeks of work you need to qualify for UI again.
    • You did not earn enough or work long enough (generally at least 15 weeks) to get regular UI, or
    • You were denied regular UI because you are a member of the clergy, a religious worker, a college or high-school student who lost part time work, including a work-study job due to COVID-19, or you cannot work because you need to provide full-time care to a child or adult in your home whose care facility is not available due to COVID-19.

You cannot get PUA if:

  • You can work from home and get paid.
  • You are getting paid sick leave from your employer.
  • You are not a citizen and you do not have a United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) issued Alien Registration number (A number) and work authorization.
  • You earned $5,100 or more in W-2 wages the previous year and you did not apply for regular UI. One of the conditions for PUA is to get denied for regular UI..


Created June 1, 2020

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
9am and 4pm