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PUA expansion means more people could qualify for unemployment benefits

The U.S. Department of Labor has announced an expansion of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, making more people eligible for benefits.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Relief is coming to unemployed people previously not eligible for unemployment benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor announced an expansion on Thursday of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

The guidelines expand eligibility for three categories of workers:

  • Workers receiving unemployment benefits who had their continued regular unemployment benefits’ claims denied after they refused to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite not in compliance with coronavirus health and safety standards.
  • Workers laid off, or who have had their work hours reduced as a direct result of the pandemic.
  • School employees working without a contract or reasonable assurance of continued employment who face reduced paychecks and no assurance of continued pay when schools are closed due to coronavirus.

The new guidance also expands the number of instances in which workers may be eligible, meaning you can now claim more than one COVID-related reason for unemployment.

"If a parent has a child whose school has closed and is doing remote learning, and their job will not accommodate a long leave of absence, they qualify because they are both... the child-caregiver responsibility and also because of the general reason of quitting work due to COVID-19 reason. If the school opens up, the parent can no longer select the caregiver option. But they do not have a job to return to. So now, it's made clear that they can continue to claim benefits under the other COVID-related cause," Jim Garner, acting administrator for unemployment insurance said.

The new benefits are retroactive all the way back to the beginning of the PUA program on January 27, 2020. However, for people who file their first PUA claim after Dec. 27, 2020, the retroactive benefits will be limited to Dec. 6, 2020.

The DOL warns that there is substantial work needed for states to implement the PUA expansion and anticipates the earliest they would be available is the end of March.

California's Employment Development Department (EDD) told our Dollars and Sense team, "All states just received this new guidance which does appear to require some complex programming, especially in regards to applying the new provision retroactively. We will need to assess what will be demanded of our system in order to implement this new federal guidance."

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"Today's announcement means that the assembly line worker who is receiving benefits, unemployment benefits, and then lost them when she declined to return to an unsafe workplace, she'll now be eligible. So will the school bus driver who has been out of work off and on for nearly a year through no fault of their own, and who has lost 1000s of dollars in essential household income. And so too will the waiter whose restaurant finally reopened, but only for takeout, leaving them without work and without benefits,"  Susie Levine, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for employment and training said. 

The PUA program has been a major target for fraud during the pandemic. In California, the EDD said 90% of fraud has been tied to the federal pandemic assistance programs.

The DOL said it is taking steps, along with the states, to crack down on that fraud, including stricter verification standards.

WATCH MORE: California man, homeless after months of waiting on his unemployment benefits, is finally paid

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