California 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.
The PUA 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.
Use the Correct 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:
- Lost a job through no fault of your own;
- Are “able to work, available to work, and actively seeking work”; and
- Have earned at least a certain amount of money during a “base period” prior to becoming unemployed (for instance, the minimum in New York is at least $2,600 in one calendar quarter).
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.
Apply Even if You Are Working but Working Less
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.
Self-Certify That You Cannot Work Because of a COVID-19-Related Reason
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:
- COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms and seeking diagnosis;
- COVID-19 diagnosis of a household member;
- Caring for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19;
- Caring for children or someone that you have caregiving responsibility for who is unable to attend school or another facility closed because of COVID-19 public health emergency;
- Inability to reach place of employment because of quarantine/shelter-in-place order;
- Inability to get to a place of employment because of self-quarantine;
- Inability to start a new job as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
- Responsibility for major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
- Quit a job as a direct result of COVID-19;
- Place of employment closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; and
- Any other criteria established by the labor secretary, which thus far includes just this one:
- The ability to continue performing customary work activities is severely limited due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
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 emergency.
Make sure you chose one of the eligibility criteria or you will likely be denied.
Collect All Records and Information Before Starting the Application
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.