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Expansion of Unemployment Insurance: Changes under COVID-19

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

T + T

Summary

The CARES Act expanded Unemployment Insurance Benefits through three different programs:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – increasing the amount of weekly benefits a qualifying individual may receive;
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – expanding the type of worker who can qualify for Unemployment Insurance;
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – increasing the number of weeks a qualifying individual can receive benefits.

This section covers the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefit, which provides assistance to workers typically not eligible for benefits under the traditional UI program.

If you are a Benefits Plus subscriber, for additional information on Unemployment Insurance Benefits, refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits. For subscription information visit: https://bplc.cssny.org/home/subscription_options.

Regular Unemployment Insurance Benefits Vs. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Claimants who qualify for regular UI benefits will receive such benefits; they cannot elect to choose PUA benefits. Claimants who do not qualify for regular UI benefits will be evaluated under the PUA qualifying guidelines and if they qualify, will receive such benefits.

Individuals in receipt of regular UI benefits or PUA benefits were entitled to the $600 per week of Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which has now ended.

Description of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

THE BASICS

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a temporary program that is currently scheduled to end December 31, 2020, unless the U.S. Congress acts.

BENEFIT AMOUNT

The minimum PUA benefit amount is $182 per week and the maximum payment amount is $504 per week. The minimum PUA benefit rate is calculated differently from the regular UI benefit and is based on 50% of the average weekly benefit amount in New York. For minimum and maximum benefit amounts under regular UI, refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Description of Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Benefit Amount.

Claimants who believe they are entitled to a higher benefit may provide additional wage information to the DOL and request a Reconsideration, refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Advocacy and Appeals, Requesting a Reconsideration – Incorrect Earnings Information. The DOL will consider whether to increase their benefit amount.

LENGTH OF PUA BENEFITS

Qualifying PUA recipients are entitled for up to 39 weeks of benefits.

Note

Note 1: The NYS DOL website indicates PUA beneficiaries are entitled to 46 weeks of PUA benefits (https://dol.ny.gov/pandemic-unemployment-assistance).
However, the federal site indicates PUA beneficiaries are entitled to 39 weeks https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance). PUA is a federal benefit.
Note 2: PUA recipients are not entitled to the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or NYS’ Extended Benefits, which are available to regular UI claimants. For a description of both, see below, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits".

FREQUENCY OF BENEFIT

Benefits are provided on a weekly basis, when the individual certifies for benefits, and did not earn more than $504 in the previous week or worked 4 or more days.

ACCESSING THE BENEFIT

Individuals can select to receive benefits either through a debit card or direct deposit (deposited directly into the claimant’s checking account). Claimants will select their choice when they first file a claim.

Claimants will be able to change from direct debit card to direct deposit, or vice versa, by going to their online account and sign on with their NY.GOV ID username and password.

Claimants may find ATM’s to access their benefit payment without any fees at ALL point ATM locator at https://www.key.com/locations/search.

RETROACTIVE BENEFITS

PUA claimants who were not eligible for regular UI benefits prior to the pandemic in the U.S. may be eligible for PUA beginning from January 27, 2020. That is, individuals who became unemployed before the pandemic in the U.S. and who were not eligible under traditional UI benefits, may be eligible for PUA and should apply and note the date of their last date of employment during the application process.

TAXATION OF PUA

Both PUA and Unemployment Insurance are subject to Federal, New York State and local taxes, provided the individual is required to file a tax return. Claimants have the option of having their Federal and/or State tax withheld from their benefits to help offset their yearly income tax liability.

Qualifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

EXPANDED ELIGIBILITY TO NON-TRADITIONAL WORKERS

PUA provides unemployment insurance benefits to workers not traditionally eligible for traditional UI benefits including the self-employed, independent contractors, freelancers, gig workers, workers with a limited work history, and those who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus public health emergency. Coronavirus related-reasons include those who:

  • Are diagnosed with COVID-19 or with COVID-19 symptoms and seeking diagnosis;
    • This is only for individuals who have taken unpaid medical leave, when they took unpaid medical leave for reasons related to COVID-19
    • If receiving paid medical leave, the individual is not eligible.
  • Have a member of the household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • Are providing care for family or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
    • This is only for individuals who have taken unpaid family and medical leave, when they took unpaid leave for reasons related to COVID-19
  • Are the primary caregiver for a child unable to attend school or another facility closed due to COVID-19;
    • However, these workers cannot continue to collect after the school year ends, absent some other qualifying circumstance.
  • Are unable to reach place of employment due to an imposed quarantine or because advised by medical provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
  • Was scheduled to commence new employment and cannot reach workplace as direct result of COVID-19;
  • Who quit job as a direct result of COVID-19;
    • Must quit as a result of ‘good cause.’
    • Good cause includes when an employee refuses to return to work because they are at high risk from the virus and their employer cannot or does not make reasonable accommodations for them. DOL staff would review those reasons and make determinations based on the facts of the individual cases.
      • It is important to document worker’s request for accommodations and the employer’s failure to accommodate.
  • Whose place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19;
    • Employees who telework with full pay are not eligible.
  • Who is self-employed/Independent Contractors/1099 filers/Farmers affected by COVID-19
    • Must have recorded earnings.
  • Who has insufficient work history and affected by COVID-19;
    • This includes individuals who do not qualify for traditional UI benefits because of insufficient work history, and lost job as a result of COVID-19.
Note

Individuals receiving traditional UI benefits may be unable to return to work for reasons listed above. If this is the case, they would be eligible to continue to receive ongoing regular UI benefits.

FURLOUGHED WORKERS

Employees whose employers temporarily closed down their place of business due to COVID-19 and who are furloughed, but employer intends to rehire them once the emergency has been lifted (that is, furloughed workers) may also apply for benefits.

PART TIME WORKERS

Employees whose hours have been reduced may be eligible for partial benefits, if they worked less than 4 days a week and earned less than $504/week.

TEACHERS

For information on teachers visit: https://dol.ny.gov/unemployment/unemployment-insurance-benefit-rules-teachers-and-other-school-workers.

Filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Note

Note 1: The experience of claimants applying for Unemployment Insurance/Pandemic Unemployment Assistance can vary from one claimant to another. The system has been in flux and has changed over time. The application experience depends on when an applicant applied, how they applied, and whether they are eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance or PUA. Following are the current procedures in place for claimants. Please keep in mind the information provided herein may change.
Note 2: Please note that whether the claimant is eligible for regular UI or PUA, the start of the application process is the same.

Advocacy Tip

Individuals who are uncertain as to whether they qualify for benefits should nevertheless file a claim. The NYS DOL will make a determination of whether an individual qualifies or not.
If an individual wants to clarify their current situation during the application process, they should contact the DOL via their NY.gov ID account through the secure e-mail messaging system. This will ensure that they made every effort to be honest and made no attempt to defraud the DOL.

WHEN TO FILE

Claimants should file the first week they worked less than 4 days and earned less than $504.

Late Filing

If a claimant applies at a later date after s/he became unemployed, s/he should indicate the date of unemployment. The NYS DOL assures that all claimants will receive retroactive benefits to the date of last employed.

HOW TO FILE

Online vs. Phone

Claimants should file online https://applications.labor.ny.gov. Claimants must establish a NY.gov ID by creating username & password, if the claimant does not already have one.

Most phone applications are NOT accepted at this time. There is an exception for those who cannot apply online or who do not speak English or Spanish. These claimants may contact the

Telephone Claims Center by phone at 1-888-209-8124
Claim Center Hours: Monday through Friday: 8 am to 7:30 pm
Saturday & Sunday: 7:30 am to 8:00 pm

For the Hearing Impaired

Helper may call the Telephone Claims Center at 1-888-783-1370.
TTY/TDD: Call a relay operator first at 1-800-662-1220, and ask the operator to call the Telephone Claims Center at 1-888-783-1370.

Starting the Claim

Claimants should file on the day according to last name:
https://labor.ny.gov/ui/how_to_file_claim.shtm. If claimant missed their date they should file on Thursday-Sunday.

Note

Note 1: The NYS Department of Labor (DOL) created a new system for filing claims as of April 10th. It is a streamlined application that allows New Yorkers to apply for both traditional UI or PUA.
The new streamlined application will determine which program, traditional UI or PUA, the claimant is eligible for and will prompt the claimant to answer program specific questions.
Note 2: For an introduction to filing for UI benefits from the NYS DOL, visit: https://dol.ny.gov/unemployment/file-your-first-claim-benefits.

Needed Information

The NYS DOL suggests having the following information available when the claimant is ready to file. Having these documents ready will speed the application process.

  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license or Motor Vehicle ID card number
  • Complete mailing address and zip code
  • A phone number where DOL can reach the claimant from 8 am – 5 pm, Monday –Friday
  • Alien Registration card number (if not a U.S. Citizen and claimants has a card)
  • Names and addresses of all your employers for the last 18 months, including those in other states
  • Employer Registration number or Federal Employer Identification Number of most recent employer (found on your W-2 forms)
  • If a federal employee, copies of forms SF8 and SF50,
  • Most recent separation form (DD 214), for military service

Completing the Application

Upon completing the application, all claimants, whether eligible for traditional UI or PUA, will receive a confirmation notice that includes a confirmation number. If possible, the claimant should print the confirmation notice, screen shot it to save in their computer, or copy the confirmation number down. Claimants may also receive a confirmation notice in their account’s ‘In Box.’

Note

The DOL webpage is currently indicating that claimants do not receive a confirmation number.

PUA applicants will receive an additional set of questions they must complete. The NYS DOL will send a link in their NY.gov ID account’s InBox. PUA applicants should continue to check their InBox for this link. They may also be asked to upload supporting documents to verify their eligibility for PUA.

Upon completing the second set of questions for PUA, the claimant will receive a PUA application confirmation with the date they completed the application. Again, they should print this notice or screen shot it to save on their computer. If needed, the DOL will contact the claimant if any additional information is required, typically through their NY.gov ID account, or they may contact the claimant via a phone call.

Note

Note 1: New Yorkers who filed claims prior to April 10th and whose claim is still pending, were told to call the DOL Call Center to finish their application. However, the DOL indicates that such claimants should NOT call. Instead the NYS DOL call center will contact the individual directly or they may receive notice on the NY.gov ID account, to which they should respond.
Note 2: For some workers, the questions are difficult to answer correctly. For example, some businesses remain partly open, and some employees are furloughed and others continue to work. Those who are furloughed can obtain PUA benefits. These claimants should indicate in the secure e-mail system on their NY.gov ID account that they have been furloughed, while the business remains partly open. Claimants should explain and disclose any information to clarify their answers that they are unable to answer clearly in the set of questions the DOL provides.

Helpful Tips When Filing

  • Include Phone Number in the Application
    • The NYS DOL may also contact the claimant by phone to obtain additional information from the claimant.
    • Many DOL representatives are working from home, so caller ID may show “PRIVATE CALLER.” Anyone calling from DOL will verify their identity by providing the date of the claim that was filed and the type of claim filed.
  • Claimants should Check their “InBox” Regularly
    • DOL will communicate messages, instructions, questionnaires through the claimant’s Inbox on their NY.gov ID account.
    • Claimants must agree to check and respond to messages and questionnaires sent via the NY.gov secure message system and all messages, forms and letters sent by mail.
  • Honesty is the Best Policy
    • If there is a dispute with DOL the claimant will be able to provide a defense as to why they answered the way they did.
    • If not able to provide a defense, and the DOL questions and determines the information is inaccurate, it could trigger penalties.
    • Attempt to clarify information through the NY.gov ID account’s secure e-mail messaging system.
  • If having trouble logging into the DOL account, visit: https://www.labor.ny.gov/ui/Authentication/general/technical-support-solutions.shtm for tips on problem solving.
    • Individuals who have a NY.gov ID account who are having trouble logging in should call 888-469-7365, and press the number associated with their language.
  • NYS DOL maintains a twitter account at https://twitter.com/NYSLabor.
    • They occasionally post notices and important information for claimants.

Helping a Person Apply

For those who assist claimants to apply for benefits visit: https://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/factsheets/pdfs/P808.pdf.

Checking the Status of the Claim

PUA claimants who have been waiting for an eligibility determination after filing the application may check the status of the claim by logging into their NY.gov ID account, locate the box with the title “Unemployment Insurance,” which allows the claimant to

  • File a claim
  • Claim weekly benefits
  • View payment history
  • Change their direct deposit information
  • View/print 1099/G and change their tax withholding information

Claimants should click on “Unemployment Services” located in the lower right-hand corner. Next, they should click on “View Payment History.” The next screen will be the claimant’s Official Record of Benefit Payment History. It will include the following:

  • Claimant’s name,
  • Claimant’s Social Security number,
  • Effective date of the claim (the date the claimant’s benefit year begins) and the claimant’s benefit year end date,
  • Weekly benefit amount
  • Maximum amount payment (this is the weekly benefit amount multiplied by 26 weeks, however, don’t forget that under Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation it can be extended an additional 13 weeks, see below, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation), and
  • Effective days remaining (there are 4 effective days in each calendar week; multiply 4 x days 26 weeks = 104. 104 is the maximum number of effective days in a claimant’s account)

The record will also indicate whether the claim is pending, which means no payment has been made. Once the claim is approved, additional information regarding the $600 PUC is included on the page.

Note

Under regular UI benefits there is typically a waiting week before the claimant can begin collecting benefits. Under the CARES Act this waiting week has been waived. If a claimant sees the term “waiting week” on their payment history, it is a remnant of their regular UI system, and does not impact his/her benefits.

Receipt of Benefits

WHEN FOUND ELIGIBLE

The NYS DOL states that the claimant’s first payment will generally be made two to three weeks from the time they filed their claim, although for many, especially PUA cases, it is taking longer.

Claims filed will be backdated to the date the claimant became unemployed. If the claimant is eligible, they will be paid for all benefits due. DOL indicates that the first payment should include retroactive benefits, but the experience of some claimants does not match this claim.

MONETARY BENEFIT DETERMINATION NOTICE

PUA claimants will receive a Monetary Benefit Determination notice indicating they are not eligible for regular UI, and the notice will indicate they are entitled to $0. This is confusing, as some PUA claimants will have already begun receiving benefits and will not understand why they are receiving this notice and what it means. NYS is required, under federal requirements, to send claimants who are ineligible for regular UI this Monetary Benefits Determination notice. Since PUA applicants are not eligible for regular UI benefits, they will receive such notice. However, PUA claimants do not need to take any action upon receipt of this notice; it does not mean they are ineligible for PUA benefits. The DOL will subsequently send a second Monetary Benefit Determination notice to PUA beneficiaries explaining their benefit amount under PUA.

Upon receipt of the second Monetary Benefit Determination notice, which explains their benefits under PUA, claimants should review the information for accuracy. If corrections are needed, such as increasing the benefit amount because of missing wage information, they should complete a Request for Reconsideration form and return it. Refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Advocacy and Appeals, Requesting a Reconsideration – Incorrect Earnings Information for more information.

NOTICE OF DETERMINATION

A Notice of Determination will indicate that a claimant was denied benefits. Individuals denied benefits may request an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing. Refer to Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Advocacy and Appeals, Requesting an Administrative Law Judge Hearing for more information.

DOL MISSED BENEFIT PAYMENT

Claims will be backdated to the date the claimant became unemployed. If the claimant is eligible, they will be paid for all benefits due.

Depending on the claimant’s bank, they may receive the benefits in one large sum or they may be sent out in different payments. If a claimant has not received all his/her payments, they will eventually receive it. They may contact the DOL through the secure e-mail messaging system found on their NY.gov ID account to confirm this.

Case Example

Cathy applied for benefits on Wednesday, April 15th. She was approved for PUA benefits, but her claim was pended. She is entitled to a $182 per week in PUA benefits. It is now the week of June 8th and she just certified for the week of June 1st.
- She is entitled to PUA benefits beginning the week of March 23rd, thus she is entitled to 11 weeks of retroactive PUA benefits.
- She is also entitled to 9 weeks of retroactive $600 PUC benefits (remember PUC began the week of April 5th).
- DOL deposited two weeks of PUA benefits for the weeks of May 25th and June 1st and two weeks of PUC benefits.
- The DOL still owes her 9 weeks of retroactive PUA benefits and 7 weeks of retroactive PUC benefits.
Cathy should contact the DOL to notify them that she had failed to certify for the weeks prior to June 1st, and was entitled to benefits. She, however, was not aware that she should have certified for those weeks while her claim was pended. See below, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Certifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Missed Certifications for how to contact DOL.

RETROACTIVE BENEFITS

The DOL is using DocuSign’s secure digital signature technology to help New Yorkers get their backdated payments. If a beneficiary receives an email, please fill out the form and send it in so that DOL can provide the entitled benefits. To verify the legitimacy of the notification from DocuSign the message will be sent to beneficiary from dse@docusign.net and the Reply-To email will be backcert@labor.ny.gov. Docusign FAQs.

Certifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

PUA Claimants Must Certify While Cases are Pended

While PUA claimants are waiting for a determination on their case, the NYS DOL indicates that PUA claimants should certify weekly. Most PUA claimants upon completion of their application do not receive notice to begin their weekly certification. Nevertheless, PUA claimants should begin the certification process upon completion of the application, as indicated on the NYS DOL website, found at https://dol.ny.gov/pandemic-unemployment-assistance.

How to Certify

Claimants must certify weekly via the phone or online to obtain their benefits. Currently it is probably best to certify online, as the Telephone Claims system is overloaded. Claimants should go to their NY.gov ID account and locate the box with the title “Unemployment Insurance.” This section allows the claimant to

  • File a claim
  • Claim weekly benefits
  • View payment history
  • Change their direct deposit information
  • View/print 1099/G and change their tax withholding information

Claimants should click on “Unemployment Services” located in the lower right-hand corner. Next, they should click on “Claim Weekly Benefits.” The claimant will answer a series of questions. Upon completion, the system will notify the claimant that they completed certification for the previous week.

Reporting Work Activity/Earnings

Claimants should report any work activity during the previous week when claiming weekly UI benefits, including part-time, temporary or unpaid jobs. If the claimant fails to report this information accurately, there could be possible fraud charges.

During the certification/claiming process claimants will be asked how many days, if any, they worked in the previous week. If a claimant did work in the previous week, they should indicate the number of days worked. Claimants who did not work in the previous week should indicate “0” days. The next question concerns whether they earned $504 or more in the previous week. Claimants who answered “0” to the number of days worked in the previous question should answer “N/A”, that is not applicable, since the claimant did not work, the question is not applicable to them. If they do answer ‘no’ to this question the system may think they did have earnings, which may negatively impact their weekly payment amount. However, if claimant did claim days worked, they should answer accordingly.

Claimants who work 4 or more days in a week are not entitled to benefits, either the traditional UI rate or the PUA rate or the PUC $600 benefit. It is recommended that individuals who work only a couple of hours a day for 4 or more days request their employer to allow them to work all hours in one or three days to avoid this problem. In addition, claimants who earn $504 more a week are also not entitled to benefits for that week.

Case Example

Case Example 1: Tony is a self-employed individual who began to collect PUA and PUC. During the past week he worked one day with a former client and earned $300. When he certified for weekly benefits, he answered “1” day. When asked whether he earned $504 or more he answered no. According to the NYS DOL rules, since he worked 1 day, his PUA benefit will be reduced by 25%, but he will receive the full $600 PUC benefit.
Case Example 2: In this example, Tony worked the following week for the same client and worked 3 days for the week and earned $775. When he certified for weekly benefits, he answered “3” days. When asked whether he earned $504 or more he answered yes. According to the NYS DOL rules, Tony would not be entitled to any of his PUA benefit and thus he would not be entitled to the $600 PUC benefit either.
Note: To learn more about how part-time work is handled by NYS DOL for beneficiaries, refer to Benefits Plus, Cash Benefits, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, Returning to Work.

Ready, Willing and Able to Work

NYS DOL rules state that claimants must be ready, willing and able to work.

The DOL has published the following statement on their website, “We understand that many of you are unable to work due to COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of NYS on PAUSE. If you would otherwise be able to work, you should answer “yes” in order to receive your benefits.”

However, the NYS DOL has not suspended work search activities. Claimants should keep a log of all work search activities, especially as the economy starts to reopen once again. The Unemployment Handbook available at https://www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/ui/TC318.3e.pdf provides information on work search activities.

When Sheltering in/Moving to Another State/Another Country

Claimants who have moved to another state or who are sheltering in another state must notify DOL that they are no longer in NYS. Claimants should send notification through the secure e-mail system through the claimant’s NY.gov ID account. The DOL will make a decision regarding whether the claimant can continue to collect benefits.

Claimants should not claim benefits if residing or traveling outside the U.S., nor should they attempt to have others certify for benefits. Upon discovery, the DOL may fine and deny benefits to the claimant.

Good Cause

As the economy reopens some individuals may have concerns regarding returning to work. Claimants are entitled to continue to collect UI benefits if they have “good cause,” for example a safety and health issue. If a claimant believes their employer has not done enough to ensure the safety of workers during the pandemic, they may be entitled to continue receiving benefits. However, claimants must make every attempt to negotiate with their employer to ensure safety protocols are put into place, and should document and retain records of these interactions to make available to DOL. Some claimants may have concerns regarding riding the subways. Employers cannot ensure safety on subways, but claimants who are immunocompromised should attempt to obtain documentation from medical professionals indicating their condition and the risk factor of traveling by subway. The claimant may also want to show they attempted to work with their employer for other potential travel accommodations. DOL will make the determination whether the individual will be able to continue to receive benefits based on “good cause.”

MISSED CERTIFICATIONS

Some claimants may have missed weeks of weekly certifications, either because they filed late or did not realize they should have been certifying. The NYS DOL has begun to identify and contact New Yorkers who are missing weekly certifications. Claimants should also contact DOL to obtain credit for the weeks they missed, as follows:

  • InBox – sign their NY.gov ID account at https://labor/ny/signin. Go to “Messages” and click “Go to My In Box.” Click the menu button (the square with three lines) and select “Compose New” and then select subject: “filing a UI claim,” and then second subject, “I Want to Request Backdating of My Claim.”
  • Fax – 518-457-9387
  • Mail – NYS Department of Labor
    PO Box 15130
    Albany, NY 12212-5130

The letter should include the individual’s name, address, telephone number, the last 4 digits of their Social Security number on the upper right hand corner of the paper, the period for which credit is being requested (the beginning and end dates of the time period for which the claimant did not claim benefits) and the and the reason why s/he did not claim benefit for that period of time. The circumstances will be investigated and a determination will be made regarding eligibility for benefits.

In addition, the DOL may request that certain claimants certify again. Claimants should answer any questions accurately to receive all entitled benefits back to the first day of unemployment.

Contacting the NYS Department of Labor

Claimants who want to contact the NYS DOL should go to their Inbox found on their NY.gov ID account. Find the box labeled “Messages.” Once there they can click on the drop-down box and compose a new message. The Inbox is also where DOL can send secure e-mails to the claimant. The claimant should check their Inbox frequently.

In addition, claimants can contact the Claimant Advocate Office at 855-528-5618. To learn more visit: https://dol.ny.gov/unemployment-insurance-claimant-advocate-office. For a fact sheet visit: https://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/factsheets/pdfs/P831.pdf