In response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, on March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion stimulus bill. The Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act – which is the unemployment insurance (UI) portion of the Act – provides enriched unemployment benefits to eligible claimants. These include greater benefit amounts, available for an extended length of time, and coverage for individuals who previously were not typically eligible for the benefits.
The Amount of Benefits has Increased
Eligible individuals receiving UI under State law, will receive an additional $600 per week in addition to their state benefits beginning 4/5/20 until 7/31/20. This amount is a flat-rate for everyone, no matter the amount of underlying benefits they would normally receive from their state. Someone receiving the NYS maximum in benefits which is $504/week, and someone who has been calculated to receive a lesser state benefit of $300/week, would both be receiving the same additional $600/week. Because of this, it is possible that some individuals could receive more in unemployment benefits than they would in their regular paycheck if they continued working.
States have the flexibility to provide the additional $600 in one payment or send the extra amount separately, assuring it is done on the same weekly basis. Under the CARES Act, the additional $600 weekly payment will be fully reimbursed by the federal government and will not affect an individual’s eligibility for other benefits like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Participants in a Shared Work Program are also eligible for the additional $600 payment.
The Length of Time to Receive Benefits has Increased
New York State, like many others, provides for 26 weeks of UI benefits. The CARES Act provides certain eligible workers with an additional 13 weeks of benefits for a total of 39 weeks. The federal government will reimburse each state in full for the additional benefits being paid. The 13 weeks of extended UI benefits apply to two categories of applicants:
- Those who meet the expanded eligibility criteria, who are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work due to a qualifying COVID-19-related reason (discussed below) at any time between 1/27/20 and 12/31/20 or
- Those who have exhausted their typical 26 weeks of UI eligibility (after 7/1/19) and are actively seeking work, between the enactment of The CARES Act and 12/31/20
The Seven-Day Waiting Period is Waived
New York, like many other states, has a seven-day waiting period from layoff or termination before individuals can apply for and receive unemployment benefits. The waiting period has been waived in NYS for people who are out of work due to COVID-19-related closures or quarantines. For all states who waive the waiting period, the federal government will provide full funding for UI benefits paid out during that same time period, through 12/31/20.
Those Not Typically Eligible May Now Have Benefits
Under the CARES Act, far more workers are eligible for UI benefits. Since they would typically not be eligible, the entire amount of benefits they receive will be funded by the federal government. Newly eligible individuals would receive the amount they would have received – using their specific state’s calculation methods – plus the $600/week flat payment.
The new categories of qualifying individuals – all unemployed, partially employed or unable to work because of a COVID-19-related reason - are:
- Those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits
- Independent contractors
- Self-employed individuals
COVID-19-related reasons include:
- The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;
- A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- The individual is providing care for a family member of a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work;
- The individual is unable to reach their place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
- The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
- The Individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
- The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency or;
- The individual meets any additional criteria established for unemployment assistance.
Newly covered individuals also include those who are seeking part-time employment, do not have sufficient work history or who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment benefits under state or federal law, provided they are unable to work due to one of the above-listed COVID-19 reasons. These individuals will be required to self-certify that they meet the eligibility criteria and are otherwise able to work in order to receive benefits.
Anyone who is receiving paid family leave (including the new leaves under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act – FFCRA), or those who can work remotely, are not eligible to receive UI under the CARES Act.
This expanded unemployment coverage will be available retroactively, for unemployment dated 1/27/20 and continuing through 12/31/20, capped at 39 weeks.
Those Actively Seeking Work Have Expanded Eligibility
The CARES Act provides an additional 13 weeks of eligibility to individuals who have exhausted their 26 weeks of benefits (after 7/1/19) and are actively seeking work. However, unlike the benefits available to independent contractors, self-employed individuals or certain others, the benefits here are available only to applicants who are totally unemployed, excluding those able to find part-time work.
Therefore, an individual must have exhausted their rights to regular UI compensation from their state, have no rights to UI under state, federal or Canadian law or to compensation under any other federal program, and must be able to, available to and actively seeking work.
These applicants must engage in active searches for employment, keeping records of the potential employers they have contacted, the method(s) used, and the date of contact. They should be prepared to provide these records to the state as verification of their active search, in order to continue receiving benefits.
The amount of the benefit they will receive is the calculation used by their state of residence, plus the additional $600/week provided by and funded by the federal government. These benefits are available from the enactment of the CARES Act through 12/31/20.
Not-For-Profits Get Assistance Too
The CARES Act includes a provision to reimburse not-for-profit organizations for fifty percent of their incurred costs to pay UI benefits between 3/13/20 and 12/31/20.
How to File a Claim
- Apply online at unemployment.labor.ny.gov
- Or call 1-888-209-8124
- File in NYS based on your last name: A – F on Monday; F – N on Tuesday; O – Z on Wednesday; If you missed your day, file on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Whether you are laying off or furloughing a single worker or a large part of your workforce, the decisions are never easy. Making those tough calls now, along with complications of the COVID-19 pandemic weighing heavily, can add to the already complicated stakes. The additional factors under the CARES Act, together with business considerations and incentives, must be thought out carefully when considering a workforce reduction in any form.
Your State Department of Labor website remains the best place to find updates on unemployment insurance benefits, calculations, modifications, eligibility, etc.
These NYS-specific sites are also helpful:
Assistance and Guidance from Freed Maxick
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Click on the button to explore insights, observations and updates.
If you wish additional guidance, we are available to discuss your issues and concerns. Connect with us by email at COVIDResponse@freedmaxick.com or call Freed Maxick at 716.847.2651.
Please keep in mind that due to the quickly-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, you should always discuss changes with your Freed Maxick advisor or legal counsel.