DOL Guidance Tackles Coronavirus Unemployment Programs

By Vin Gurrieri
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Law360 (April 6, 2020, 5:45 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Department of Labor has given states fresh guidelines for implementing programs that Congress enacted to expand unemployment insurance coverage for those put out of work during the novel coronavirus pandemic, laying out a road map for independent contractors and gig workers seeking benefits. 

The DOL's Employment and Training Administration issued two guidance letters over the weekend that clarified various elements of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, dubbed the CARES Act. Signed by President Donald Trump on March 27, the law was one of several legislative packages passed by Congress to help people and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic weather the economic storm.

The CARES Act includes several programs aimed at boosting the ability of millions of newly unemployed workers to collect unemployment insurance benefits while they are out of work, as many businesses have been forced to close their doors during the pandemic.

The guidance letters sent to administrators of state workforce agencies offer guidance for those states on how to implement and operate two programs that were included as part of the CARES Act involving unemployment insurance benefits: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, or FPUC. 

The PUA program provides benefits to eligible people affected by COVID-19 who don't otherwise qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, such as independent contractors, people who are self-employed and those who work as part of the so-called gig economy, according to the DOL. 

The FPUC gives eligible individuals who are already collecting certain types of unemployment insurance benefits an extra $600 per week in federal benefits through the end of July. The CARES Act also extends the term of state benefits for several months. 

On April 4, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement that accompanied the department's release of its FPUC guidance letter that the CARES Act's $600 weekly unemployment compensation supplement "will provide valuable support to American workers and their families during this challenging time." 

"The department will continue to provide guidance and support to the states so they can administer the important new benefits under the CARES Act while guarding against fraud and abuse in their unemployment insurance systems," Scalia said. 

In its FPUC guidance letter — called Unemployment Insurance Program Letter 15-20 — the DOL identified exactly which types of  unemployment benefits people must be receiving to qualify for the $600 per week FPUC would provide on top of what they already get. The letter also lays out key dates related to the program that states need to keep in mind as well as other details about how the program should be administered. 

The second guidance letter issued late Sunday dealing with the PUA — Unemployment Insurance Program Letter 16-20 — provides a broad overview of the program and delves into details about who is eligible for benefits under the program and how the program will run. 

The DOL's guidance letters over the weekend came after an initial guidance from the department on April 2, which gave state workforce agencies a summary of the CARES Act and its various provisions. 

--Editing by Haylee Pearl.

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