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COVID-19 and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

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

The CARES Act expanded Unemployment benefits so more workers can get help during the COVID-19 emergency.

Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
if you had to stop working because of COVID-19 and:

  • You used up all your state and federal UI benefits. Or
  • Your “benefit year” ended sometime after July 5, 2019 and you used up all your benefits during your benefit year. The benefit year is the 52 weeks after you file a claim for Unemployment benefits You claimed Unemployment any time after July 6, 2018 and used up all your benefits.
  • You are totally or partly unemployed or you do not have as much work as you did and you are:
    • Self-employed in your own business or on a farm.
    • An independent contractor and you can show reportable income.
    • A "gig worker" and you can show reportable income.
    • An Americorps or Peace Corps worker and your placement site closed and you lost income.

Apply for Regular Unemployment Insurance, get denied, and then apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
if you had stop working because of COVID-19 and:

    • You are clergy or you work for a religious organization.
    • You are only looking for part-time work.
    • You are a full-time student who worked part-time. This includes full-time high school students who worked part-time. The term 'part-time student' does not appear in the application, you are eligible. Include yourself as someone whose job ended or whose hours were reduced.
    • You are unable to work because you must provide full-time care to a child because no other care is available due to COVID-19. This includes school that is fully or partially on line.

      Note

      If your only reason for claiming PUA is because you choose to keep your child at home and your child's school is fully open, you cannot get PUA.

Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
if you had to stop working because of COVID-19 and:

  • The Department of Unemployment Assistance denied your application for regular UI because:
    1. You had "insufficient wages." They might use this reason to deny your application because:
      • You did not earn at least $5,100 in the prior year, so they said you are “monetarily ineligible." There is no minimum earning requirement to get PUA.
      • Your earnings were in the wrong months of the year before you applied for UI so DUA said you are “monetarily ineligible."
      • You did not work enough weeks last year to qualify for regular (UI). Before the CARES Act, you needed about 15 weeks of work to qualify.
    2. You left a prior job where you worked before the job that ended due to COVID-19 for a reason that DUA said disqualified you for UI.
      Usually, you need to “serve” a disqualification by working for 8 weeks. Now, the disqualification will be “served” if you get PUA for 8 weeks, and at that point you may need to collect regular UI if you hadn’t used up all your weeks.
    3. The disqualification that allows you to get PUA includes a prior fraud disqualification that you got when you were getting regular UI that happened before your COVID-19 related unemployment .

COVID-19 related reasons for stopping work

The PUA application asks if you are not working because:

  • You were diagnosed with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) or you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • A member of your household was diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You were providing care for a family or household member who was diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • A child or other person you are the main care-giver for cannot attend school or another facility as a result of COVID-19.
  • You have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • You cannot reach your place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • You cannot reach your place of employment because you have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
  • You are self-employed or an independent contractor and COVID-19 has severely limited your ability to perform your normal work.
  • You do not have a recent history of full-time work and you were scheduled to start a job with a new employer. You cannot start that job or the offer was withdrawn as a result of COVID-19.
  • Your place of employment closed because of COVID-19.
  • You quit your job, you were laid off or your hours were reduced because of COVID-19.

If you cannot work for one of the above reasons and then you have a new reason, as long as it is listed, you can continue to get PUA.

You cannot get PUA if

  • You do not have one of these COVID-19 related reasons for not working.
  • You can telework full-time with pay. But if your hours are reduced, you may be able to get some PUA.
  • You can telework full-time with pay. But if you cannot telework because of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking, you can get PUA.
  • You are getting paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits for the same hours you usually worked. But, if your paid leave is based on hours that were reduced because of COVID-19, you may be able to get some PUA. See How much PUA can I get?
  • You quit a job that offers paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.
  • You are not a US citizen and
    • you do not both a valid Social Security Number, and
    • an identification number (“A number”) issued by the United States Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS) and the “A” number indicates that you have work authorization.
  • You were not impacted by COVID-19 and you quit work just to collect PUA. This is fraud.
  • A recent federal guideline says that you are not eligible for PUA if the only reason you are claiming PUA is to stay home with your child, but your child’s school offers full-time in-person school and you choose not to send your child to school.

How much PUA can I get?

  1. If you did not earn anything after you stopped work, you will get at least $267/ week PUA immediately. The most you can get is $855/week.
    The amount you get depends on your earnings in 2019. If you earn more than $89/week while collecting the $267, DUA subtracts every dollar over $89 that you earned, from the $267 minimum PUA benefit.
    While you are receiving PUA in any week that you earn $356 ($267 + $89) or more, you will not get any PUA for that week, including no additional supplement of $600 or $300.
  2. Everyone who gets any Unemployment Insurance, gets $600/week or $300/week plus your PUA benefit. So, for every week you cannot work between March 29 and July 25, 2020 you get at least $267 plus $600 for a total of $867/week.
    For every week you cannot work starting the week ending August 1 through September 5, 2020, you get at least $267 plus $300 a week for a total of $567 a week.
    But, the extra $300 a week will stop when the program runs out of money.
  3. You also get:
    $25/week for each child for whom you provide more than 50% support, who
    • is under 18,
    • is under 24 and a full-time student, or
    • needs you to stay home and not work because of they have mental or physical disabilities. There is no age limit for children with mental or physical disablities..

    But there is a limit on the weekly amount you can get for your children. You can only get $25/week per child up to 50% of your weekly unemployment benefit. This $25/week is a "dependency allowance."

DUA adds the dependency allowance to your benefit after they verify the information about your children.

When you first apply for PUA, until DUA can verify your income, you will get:

  • the minimum $267/week, and
  • $600/week for the weeks you did not work between 3/29/2020 and 7/25/2020, and
  • $300/week for the weeks you did not work starting the week ending 8/1/2020 until the week ending 9/5/2020.

After DUA verifies your earnings from 2019, you may get more than $267 up to $855. If that is the case, you will be able to earn up to 1/3 of the higher amount before DUA subtracts these earnings from your benefit.

You can get PUA benefits for up to 39 weeks but all payments will stop on December 26, 2020 unless a new federal law extends this date. Any weeks of benefits you get from regular UI and EB will be subtracted from this 39 week total but the weeks of benefits you get on PEUC do not get subtracted

Important

If you get PUA benefits by mistake, you must pay it all back.  The PUA benefit overpayment cannot be waived.

When can I start getting PUA benefits?

You should expect to get your first PUA benefit payment within the first week of when you apply.

Any weeks you did not work full-time because of COVID-19, between February 2, 2020 and December 26, 2020, you qualify for PUA benefits.

You can get PUA benefits back to February 2, 2020.

You can get the extra $600/week for weeks you did not work between March 29, 2020 and July 25, 2020.

You can get the extra $300/week of Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) back to the week ending August 1, 2020 until the week ending September 5, 2020 while the FEMA money is available.

Note

DUA will give you benefits back to the date you stopped working, on or after February 2, 2020. The PUA application asks, "When were you impacted by COVID-19?” Put the date you had to stop working in this box.

How many weeks of PUA benefits can I get?

Right now, the maximum number of weeks you can get any PUA is 39 plus any weeks you get PEUC. But, the benefits will stop on December 26, 2020 - unless there is a federal extension.

New acts of Congress or unusually high numbers of people out of work will trigger the UI system to extend the number of weeks you can get Unemployment Insurance.

How do I apply for PUA?

Apply for PUA:

Before you apply, collect all the information they will ask for. You need:

  • The date you had to stop working - they ask when COVID-19 first "impacted" you. You can get benefits payments back to the first date you were “impacted” by COVID-19 starting on or after Feb 2, 2020 so this date is important.
  • Your social security number,
  • If you are not a citizen of the United States, the number the immigration service gave you. The application will ask you for your “UICIS issued identification number.” After you provide this number, you will be asked to provide a document that shows you have work authorization. You will get a notice that requires you to upload the documents through a "fact-finding" link on your PUA account.
  • Your home address,
  • Your mailing address, if different from your home address,
  • Your telephone number,
  • Your email address,
  • Your birth date,
  • Your wage records for 2019, which includes:
    • 1099 forms,
    • Pay stubs,
    • Bank statements or receipts,
    • If you have it, your 2019 tax return,
    • Ledgers, contracts, invoices and billing statements,
    • If you are self-employed, your net income. This is your gross income minus business expenses.
  • The social security numbers and dates of birth for your dependent
  • children
  • If you want your PUA payments deposited into your bank account, you need your bank account and routing numbers.

Why Do I Need to Prove My Identity?

So many people were scamming the system that DUA now requires proof of identity. You must upload your proof through a "fact-finding" link that DUA puts on the home page of your account. Check your PUA account regularly so you see the fact-finding links when they show up.

Documents needed to prove identity include:

  • A social security card or other government-issued document that includes your name and SSN.
  • A Driver’s license or other government issued document that has an official picture of you. If you are uploading your driver's license, it seems the online account will only accept a Massachusetts driver's license.
  • A government issued document that has your name and birthdate. A Massachusetts driver’s license, Massachusetts ID, or passport has all this information.

Note

  • The instructions say your application will take less time if you include a picture of yourself holding your photo identification.
  • If you cannot upload documents yourself, call (877) 626-6800 for help. Mailing documents to DUA will delay processing your claim. It will take a lot longer..
  • Always include both sides of any document you upload.

See the DUA’s updated PUA identity verification instructions online.

What Do I Need to Do to Keep Getting PUA Benefits?

You need to certify weekly that you continue to be unable to work as a direct result of the impact of COVID-19.

Certify online

You must certify in English online.

The default setting is in English.  To claim benefits in Spanish, you must select Spanish Ver en Español, in the top right-hand corner.

before you log in. This will translate the PUA account and allow you to claim the benefits in Spanish

Certify over the phone

To certify by phone, call 877-626-6800,
Monday-Friday,
8:30 AM – 4:30 PM EST.
You can certify by telephone in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Cantonese.

You may be required to provide more information.  This is usually required with a fact-finding link.  Check your home page regularly for "fact-finding" links.

Note

Regular UI and EB are deducted from your total # of weeks on PUA and PEUC are not deducted.

Are there are federal benefits available and how do I apply for them?

Yes, there are now 2 separate 13-week extra federal benefits for people who have used up their state unemployment benefits. These are PEUC and EB. PEUC is available through UI online. EB is not yet available.

Important

If you apply online, you must complete your application all at once. You cannot save it and return later. The session will time out and you will have to start all over again. So collect all your information before you start the application. If you are stopped from continuing the application, be sure and call DUA at 877-626-6800 to see if this is a mistake.

Non-citizens

If you are a non-citizen, you can apply for PUA if you have have:

  • a valid Social Security number, and
  • an A-number (Alien Registration Number)  issued by the United States Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS).

You will need to upload your work authorization. Use the fact-finding link on the home page of your PUA account.

Getting UI or PUA does not count as a public charge. So it does not affect your immigration status.

Why could I not complete the PUA Application if I have not lived or worked in Massachusetts in 2019?

You are eligible for PUA if you were impacted by COVID-19 in 2020. The PUA application wrongly blocked individuals from continuing your application if you did not work or live in Massachusetts in 2019. DUA fixed this problem and you can apply now.

Reminder - Save your time off!

If you are getting paid sick leave, you cannot get PUA at the same time.

But you do not need to use up all your unpaid sick time, vacation time, personal time, before you collect PUA.

Remember to apply for other benefits too

See:

SNAP Food Assistance - Workers who lost hours or job due to COVID-19

COVID-19 and MassHealth and Health Insurance

More information

See the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance webpages COVID-19 unemployment information. If you have trouble completing your UI application online or you have questions about the status of your application, call 877-626-6800 or use the DUA Unemployment contact form.

For information specifically about PUA go to www.mass.gov/pua where you can get the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Guidebook, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Eligibility Checklist, and other information. You can also get the guide book in:

For now, the PUA application is only in English and Spainsh.Y you cancertify weekly that you are eligible to continue getting PUA Spanish, Portuguese and Cantonese.

For updates, and related materials on COVID-19 and unemployment see MassLegalServices webpages for Massachusetts lawyers and advocates.

For updates to this fact sheet, see MassLegalServices webpages for Massachusetts lawyers and advocates.

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