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Changes to Unemployment Under the CARES Act

Applications for unemployment benefits have skyrocketed as a result of social distancing requirements and forced closures of businesses.  Thankfully, unemployment compensation benefits were dramatically expanded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (or CARES) Act.  These expansions include:

Expanded Eligibility for Certain Individuals

Under normal circumstances, persons who are self-employed or considered contractors, freelances, “gig” workers, or part-time or furloughed workers, are ineligible for unemployment benefits.  The CARES Act has expanded eligibility to include these individuals.  To be eligible, the individuals must be able to prove that the coronavirus emergency has prevented them from gainful employment.  According to NBC News, contractors will be eligible for half of the average unemployment benefits in their state. Additionally, individuals who were scheduled to begin new employment but were unable to start because of COVID-19 can receive unemployment benefits.

Immediate Benefits

Typical unemployment benefits are not available for the first week that an individual is out of work.  This is designed to motivate individuals to look for work immediately to avoid a week without pay.  Because of the concern that alternate employment may be challenging or impossible to find for the foreseeable future, the CARES Act includes a provision in which the federal government will provide the funds for the first week of UI benefit should the state waive the waiting period.

A Bump in Regular Weekly Amounts 

The average unemployment amount nationwide is just under $400 per week.  The CARES Act provides an additional $600 per week to certain individuals receiving unemployment benefits.  This expansion grants individuals who would normally qualify for unemployment benefits under state law to also receive the additional amount referred to as “Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.”  This additional amount is paid by the state to the recipient and is then reimbursed by the Federal government.  The additional amount does not affect the employer’s UI account. Currently, the bump in unemployment expires on July 31, 2020.

Increase in Available Weeks of Unemployment Compensation

If an individual reaches the maximum number of weeks of allowable unemployment compensation, the CARES Act will allow them to receive additional benefits for up to 13 weeks.  This increases total time of available unemployment compensation from 26 to 39 weeks.

Short-Term Compensation Programs

If an individual has hours or compensation cut, they are generally not eligible for any unemployment benefits.  However, the CARES Act has a provision that incentivizes states who do not currently offer a short-time compensation program.  The Act covers 50% of the establishment costs incurred by the states through the end of the year.

COVID-19 Related Unemployment Compensation Benefits

Should an individual be unable to work due to COVID-19 related reasons (diagnosis, exposure, symptoms, or self-quarantine), he or she may be eligible for up to 39 weeks of unemployment compensation even though they are not available for work.  Remember, under normal circumstances unemployment benefits are only available to those individuals who are able to work and who are actively seeking employment. To be eligible for these benefits, an individual must be directly impacted by COVID-19 in one of the following ways:

  • Self-certify that they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms and seeking a diagnosis;
  • Have an individual in their household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • Provide care for a family member or member of the household who has been diagnosed;
  • Be unable to attend work because a child or person in the household for the which the individual is the primary caregiver is unable to attend school or another facility;
  • Be unable to reach his or her place of employment because of a quarantine imposed or because the individual has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine;
  • Become the primary breadwinner of a household because the head of household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • Be forced to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • The individuals place of employment has closed as a direct result of COVID-19.

Changes to Georgia’s Unemployment Process

  • All in-person requirements for services are temporarily suspended;
  • Online access is available for unemployment services;
  • Partial claim access is available online for employers;
  • Other reemployment services are also available online;
  • Employers who are forced to temporarily reduce or eliminate work hours for employees are required to file partial claims on behalf of those employees. According to the GA DOL website: “Any employer found to be in violation of this rule will be required to reimburse GDOL for the full amount of unemployment insurance benefits paid to the employee.”

Do you believe you’re eligible for unemployment benefits?  Apply with your state’s Department of Labor or speak with your employer about starting the application process. For additional information about Georgia’s unemployment rules with regard to COVID-19 changes, you can visit https://dol.georgia.gov/gdol-covid-19-information.