April 24, 2020
recently announced that it will open its Pandemic Unemployment Assistance application on April 28, enabling self-employed individuals, independent
contractors, and workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment
compensation to claim relief available to them under the CARES Act. New York, New
Jersey, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have also activated PUA applications.
provisions of the CARES Act entitle the millions of freelance workers and
independent contractors (e.g., those with 1099—not W-2—income) to critical
economic relief. But its provisions do not clearly cover writers and others who
normally work from home and whose income has been lost because the work has
dried up—and the Authors Guild has been leading the fight in D.C. to get
clarifications that will ensure that the states allow writers and others in
those circumstances to claim relief.
Moreover, the rollout
of PUA by states has been exceedingly slow since they did not already have
mechanisms in place for PUA, leaving many authors and freelance workers in the
lurch. As of April 10, only about half of the states were accepting applications for the PUA, with many
struggling to keep their unemployment websites online due to the volume of claims.
The CARES Act does provide for retroactive relief, however, so people who are
unable to file until their state comes online will still receive the benefits.
As we expect
more states to start rolling out the program, here are some things to remember
when filling out your PUA form.
W-2 Income – Regular Unemployment Form
If you have earnings from W-2s, then you may be eligible for
unemployment compensation through the state (in addition to up to $600 per week
in CARES Act benefits) as long as you meet these basic requirements:
Most states allow for up to 26 weeks of unemployment compensation. The CARES Act extends these benefits by another 13 weeks; so if you have exhausted your 26 weeks, you can reapply.
If you have earnings from W-2s that meet the state minimum
criteria for unemployment compensation but you also have additional income from
1099s, you would likely fill out the application for regular unemployment
compensation, as one of the requirements for PUA is being ineligible for
regular unemployment compensation. Be sure to carefully review your state’s
instructions if this situation applies to you.
If you have earnings from W-2s but your earnings do not meet
the state minimum required to receive benefits under regular unemployment
compensation, then you should look for the PUA form.
1099 Income – PUA Form
Your state may ask you to start a single unemployment insurance application
to collect basic information about your employment status before directing you
to a PUA-specific form, or it may have separate application forms for PUA and
other types of employment compensation and ask you to select one. Some states,
like Pennsylvania, have dedicated PUA portals for applications.
If your earnings are reported on 1099 forms, then you’re typically
only eligible to apply for PUA, and not for traditional unemployment benefits,
in most states.If you were incorrectly classified by your employer as a
contractor instead of an employee, you may contest the denial of unemployment,
but that usually takes some time, likely delayed even more due to states’
implementation of CARES Act relief.
You should apply for unemployment even if you are still getting
some work. PUA is available to those freelance workers who have lost some income
but who are still getting some work.
Filling Out the PUA Forms
One of the requirements for PUA eligibility is that you have become “unemployed, partially unemployed, or unavailable to work” because of one or more of the following COVID-19-related reasons. As of now they are:
Even if none of the first 10 specific reasons apply to you, and
you have lost income due to COVID-19, then you should choose this new criteria
added by the secretary of labor. The Authors Guild is leading the charge to
obtain additional clarifying language that ensures it covers authors and
freelance writers who have the physical ability to work, but their clients and
employers are not hiring due to COVID-19. We want to ensure that the states cannot
turn you down because of lack of clear federal guidance. In the meantime, you
may refer to this criteria.
If your state has a form with only the first 10 criteria listed
and you must check one, look for a place in the form (a check box or open-ended
response box) to indicate that you are applying for PUA based on additional
criteria established by the labor secretary and that your ability to
continue your customary work activities has been severely limited due to the
COVID-19 public health emergency.
If there is no place on the form for you to enter the secretary of
labor’s new criteria, chose another one that would arguably apply and add a
note somewhere that you think the most applicable criteria actually is #11:
per the secretary of labor’s guidelines, the ability to continue performing
customary work activities is severely limited due to the COVID-19 public health
Make sure you chose one of the eligibility criteria or you will
likely be denied.
The information required to fill out the forms may vary among states.
The Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop
website has an easy-to-use search function that can help you find
state-specific information and forms.