COVID Unemployment Comp for the Self-Employed Now Available in Pennsylvania
HARRISBURG – After what may have seemed an interminable wait, but which was actually only about 4 1/2 weeks after receiving the final guidance from the federal government on the program, Pennsylvania's self-employed and gig workers can now process their claims for unemployment benefits under the Federal CARES Act and receive their first payments, including retroactive payments, within three to five business days.
The Federal CARES Act, passed on March 27, provides unemployment benefits for individuals who lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic but whom would not traditionally be eligible for state unemployment benefits.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to covered individuals if they are 1) not eligible for regular UC, and 2) are otherwise able and available to work except that they are unemployed, partially employed, or because of any one of the following COVID-19-related reasons:
• People unable to work because they have COVID-19;
• They are caring for a household or family member with COVID-19;
• People who need to care for children at home because their school or daycare is closed;
• Workers who cannot get to work due to shutdowns;
• Individuals scheduled to start a new job and were unable to start as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic;
• People out of work because their employer closed due to the pandemic;
• Independent contractors under- or un-employed due to COVID; this includes rideshare drivers, clergy, short-term rental owners, who do not have other employment
• Self-employed, including owners of LLCs or corporations, whose business is shut down due to COVID.
Because the PUA system was an entirely new unemployment compensation scheme, applicants could not be accommodated through the state traditional unemployment portal. The state's initial portal was designed to collect applications so that they would be ready to be processed once the "back end" was completed. The application portal went live on April 18 -- or about two weeks after the US Department of Labor issued the final guidance to the states on the rules and procedures to be applied under the CARES Act PUA.
Over 200,000 applications were received through that portal. Eligible workers who have not yet applied are still able to do so and receive retroactive benefits.
The "back end" of Pennsylvania's PUA portal went live on May 7, at about 6 am. At that point, all applications were processed and applicants received a letter in their portal "Dashboard" telling them if they were approved and for what amount. Qualified applicants will received 50% of their lost income, up to $575 a week and a minimum of $195 a week. In addition, under the CARES Act, starting with the week ending April 2, through July 25, they will receive an additional $600 a week directly from the federal government.
Qualified individuals with approval letters (in the "My Messages" section of the individual dashboard), will receive their first payment within three to five business days after they complete their weekly claim certifications. Initially, they will need to complete a weekly claim (at the "File for Weekly Benefits" section of the individual dashboard) for each week of their retroactive claims. Thereafter, weekly claims should be filed each Sunday.
Applicants can elect to receive payments either through direct bank deposit or through a debit card. If they select a debit card, the first card will arrive seven to ten days after the filing, thereafter payments will be made to the card within three days or so of the weekly claim. If the applicant happened to have received a Pennsylvania UC debit card within the last three years, and they select the debit card method, they must use that prior card. If that card is not available to them, they will need to contact the debit card provider company (888-233-5916) to obtain a new one.