Increased Unemployment Benefits Under the CARES Act (COVID-19 Relief Act)

April 3, 2020 — As part of the COVID-19 Relief Act enacted last week, Congress increased by $600 the amount of weekly Unemployment Insurance (UI) payments that laid off and furloughed workers can receive through July 31, 2020. The CARES Act also extends the number of weeks of eligibility for long term unemployed people from 26 weeks to 39 weeks, temporarily eliminates work-search requirements and minimum work history (under normal rules, only those who have been employed for a year are eligible), and expands the categories of eligible workers to include self-employed and gig workers, in addition to traditional employees. Generally, if you take a leave or a reduction in hours as a result of the downturn, you will be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits. However, the scale and scope of these benefits will vary depending on your state of residence. For more information about the changes the CARES Act made to the unemployment insurance, we recommend this guide put together by our friends at the National Employment Law Project.

Visit this website to look up eligibility requirements in your state. Unemployment benefits will be less than what your salary was, but these funds will be an important part of your new income.

Questions & Answers about the COVID-19 UI benefits:

Q: Am I eligible for expanded unemployment benefits?

You are eligible for expanded unemployment benefits (with a valid Social Security Number) if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You cannot reach your place of work due to a quarantine order (by a healthcare provider or otherwise) or your place of employment is closed as a result of COVID-19.You or a member of your household have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • You are providing care for a family member or household member who has been diagnosed. 
  • You are caring for a child that is without other care or out of school as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • You were scheduled to begin your employment and either cannot reach the job or do not have a job as a direct result of COVID-19.

Q: Do I receive enhanced benefits if I qualify for the COVID-19 UI benefit?

All individuals receiving UI, including those receiving UI prior to COVID-19, will receive up to $600 per week in additional benefits over and above the regular State UI weekly amount through July 31, 2020.  The level of benefits an individual receives varies by state. The Act also extends each state’s UI benefit coverage term by 13 weeks, up to a maximum of 39 weeks.

Q: Do I qualify for COVID-19 benefits if I took a voluntary leave or furlough?

Unemployment Insurance typically does not cover employees who left their jobs voluntarily unless this leave was in response to the COVID-19 downturn. Some States may deny benefits because the furlough was voluntary, which is why it is important to have a letter stating the leave/furlough is due to COVID-19. It is crucial when applying for UI benefits that you state as often as you can that you are on a furlough “because of COVID-19” and the related reduction in air travel.  

Q: Is there a waiting period for receiving UI benefits after I apply?

No. The CARES Act waived the standard one-week waiting period for those eligible for the enhanced COVID-19 benefits.  

Q: Am I eligible for COVID-19 UI benefits if I am receiving partial UI benefits because of reduced work hours?

Yes. Some States allow employees to receive “partial” UI benefits because they have had their work hours reduced but are still receiving some pay from their employer.  The COVID-19 enhanced benefits apply to even those who are receiving partial UI benefits.

Q: Do I have to pay back any UI benefits I received under the COVID-19 relief plan?

No. You do not need to pay back UI benefits.  

Q: If a member of my family is covered by Medicaid or CHIP, will the enhanced UI benefits count as part of my income for eligibility under these programs?

No, the UI benefit will not be included in your income for this purpose.

Q: Am I eligible for COVID-19 UI benefits if I am receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave?

If you are receiving paid sick leave or other forms of paid leave you will likely not be eligible for the COVID-19 UI benefits. However, you may qualify for a partial benefit during this time if your leave pay is less than your usual compensation and your state has a program that allows for partial UI benefits.     

Q: Am I eligible for the one-time cash payment in the CARES Act?

Individual tax filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 will receive the full $1,200 payment. Married couples filing joint returns up to $150,000 will receive the full $2,400 for married couples. Parents also receive $500 for each qualifying child.

For filers with income above those amounts, the payment amount is reduced and then phased out for individuals whose income exceeds $99,000 (or $198,000 for joint filers with no children).

The IRS will use information on your 2018 or 2019 tax return to determine whether you are entitled to an “economic income payment” and the amount you should receive. If you didn’t file a tax return for 2019, the agency will use your 2018 return.

Payments will be automatically made to every eligible person. If you accepted a tax refund by direct deposit, the government will send the funds directly to you the same way.