Stephanie Ferguson Stephanie Ferguson
Director, Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


April 17, 2020


With the federal government having passed numerous Corona virus relief bills, there is naturally a fair amount of confusion about how to interpret and apply them. The expanded unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for displaced workers under theCARES Actare no exception. There is some basic information that workers and employers should know about UI.

First and foremost, UI benefits are traditionally funded through and administered by the 50 states. This means each state determines who qualifies for UI, what level of benefits they will receive, and for how long. As a rule of thumb, most states provide 26 weeks of UI benefits to workers with an established and meaningful work history who have lost their job through no fault of their own, although the weeks of benefits provided varies by state.

The CARES Act established three new programs.

  • Workers who exhaust their regular benefits can now access an extra 13 weeks of benefits through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. This program is federally funded and expires on December 31, 2020.
  • Workers who do not qualify for regular UI, such as sole-proprietors, independent contractors, or employees of some non-profit organizations can qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This federally funded program pays the same weekly benefits as a state’s regular UI program. The benefits are available for up to 39 weeks, and the program expires on December 31, 2020.
  • Any worker who receives state UI, PEUC, or PUA will also receive Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. This federally funded program adds an additional $600 to an individual’s weekly benefit amount and expires July 31, 2020.

While PUA is intended to support those who can’t access regular benefits, it’s important to understand that there are specific criteria for who is eligible, and those criteria are all directly tied to the Corona virus. As of now, with one limited exception, those criteria do not include fear of catching the virus. The exception is that an individual can stay away from work and collect PUA if a medical professional has told them that they should self-quarantine because an existing medical condition or health factor raises particular concerns around exposure to the Corona virus.

In the current environment there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of fear. Both workers and employers need to ensure they have correct information about things like eligibility for benefits so that they can properly avail themselves of the support provided by the CARES Act.

For more Coronavirus information visithere. For state specific unemployment insurance information, visitCareer One Stop.

About the authors

Stephanie Ferguson

Stephanie Ferguson

Stephanie Ferguson is the Director of Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives. Her work on the labor shortage has been cited in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Associated Press.

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