How did the CARES Act change unemployment insurance?

The CARES Act created three new forms of unemployment benefits for states to distribute, fully funded by the federal government (even though Unemployment Insurance applications are still handled state-by-state).

  1. Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) provided an additional $600 per week on top of any state unemployment benefits until the week ending July 25 or 26, 2020 (depending on the state) to anyone eligible for UI.
  2. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) offers 13 additional weeks of the state unemployment benefits after a person has reached their state’s time limit (26 weeks in most states). This is in addition to extended benefits. PEUC is paid out after a person has used up all of their regular unemployment benefit weeks, but before they receive their extended benefits.
  3. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) expands UI to most of the people who aren’t normally covered. Anyone who has lost a significant amount of their income or expected income, such as workers who had accepted a job offer but then had it rescinded, for any reason related to COVID-19, can receive unemployment benefits of at least half the state’s average (except, unfortunately, undocumented immigrants). Workers are eligible for up to 39 weeks of PUA until December 31, 2020, and they can receive the benefits retroactively for any COVID-19 related job loss that took place after January 27, 2020. The additional $600 weekly from PUC can go to both normal UI recipients and PUA recipients.

The CARES Act also made several administrative changes, including encouraging states to waive “waiting weeks” and allowing states to temporarily modify or suspend work search requirements. It has also temporarily provided federal funding to states that utilize Short-Time Compensation (work sharing) programs.