Unemployment Insurance During COVID-19

This memo describes: What current unemployment assistance flexibilities exist under the CARES Act and Continued Assistance Act; What presidential actions have been taken to provide additional unemployment compensation as CARES Act benefits expired; What states are doing to increase UI staffing and system capacity; What governors are doing to further improve access to UI; and What governors can do to communicate UI challenges and opportunities to the public, to help reduce public uncertainty that further overwhelms the UI system.

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Current Status

Unemployment benefits for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs, insurance provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES, P.L. 116-136),  were set to expire December 31, 2020. The last day for unemployment insurance recipients under the CARES Act PUA and PEUC programs to receive unemployment compensation was December 26, 2020. On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R 133) which amended the CARES Act through the UI Provisions in the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020 (Continued Assistance Act).

The Continued Assistance Act extends PUA and PEUC as well as reinstates the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) at $300 per week (compared to the $600 per week that expired July 31, 2020) until March 14, 2021. The Continued Assistance Act also extends federal funding for state Short-Time Compensation (STC) programs as a regular unemployment program and extends federal funding until March 14, 2021. Finally, the Continued Assistance Act establishes the new Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) program.

Since the legislation was signed on December 27, 2020, individuals collecting benefits under the PUA and PEUC programs were eligible for payments the week ending January 2, 2021. Individuals on all regular UI, PUA, PEUC, Extended Benefits (EB), and MEUC programs will receive the reinstated FPUC. FPUC is not payable with respect to any week during the gap in applicability, that is, weeks of unemployment ending after July 31, 2020, through weeks of unemployment ending on or before December 26, 2020.

In addition to extension of CARES Act UI programs and benefits, the Continued Assistance Act now requires states to provide a method for employers to report to the state agency individuals who refuse to return to work or to accept an offer of suitable work and that states notify said individuals who are reported under the relevant state laws. As of December 30, 2020, the U.S Department of Labor has provided a summary on key provisions and issued guidance for states to implement and administer Continued Assistance Act provisions.

All NGA coronavirus memos can be found here, or visit Coronavirus: What You Need To Know for current information on actions States/Territories are taking to address the COVID-19 pandemic; as well as advocacy, policy, and guidance documents for protecting public health and the economy.