Millions of unemployed Americans affected by the coronavirus pandemic are at risk of having to pay back their benefits if they fail to meet a new requirement.
The benefits are part of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “PUA covers individuals who are not eligible for/exhausted other UI benefits, including self-employed workers, gig workers, independent contractors.”
The new requirement pertains to the roughly four million people in this category who are receiving benefits from the PUA program, NextAdvisor reported. CBC reported that the new verification process is designed to prevent fraud.
Claimants must now provide evidence substantiating their claims, NextAdvisor continued, including W-2s, tax returns and business receipts.
“Those individuals are going to have to substantiate their employment and prove their identity, even if they had not done so in 2020,” unemployment researcher Andrew Stettner told NextAdvisor. “They also have new requirements to certify that they are still out of work due to COVID each and every week.”
Here’s what you need to know:
PUA Is Not the Same as PEUC
Congress last spring created the weekly $600 PUA supplement for each recipient, and it also established two other programs to aid struggling Americans, according to The Century Foundation.
Lawmakers created PUA for gig workers and “others not eligible for regular benefits,” as well as 100 percent federal funding for benefits for the long-term unemployed through Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Extended Benefits (EB), The Foundation continued.
PUA still applies to self-employed workers, gig workers, independent contractors, and other people who don’t usually qualify for unemployment insurance. The PUA program is extended to March 14, 2021. If you receive PUA during the week ending March 14, 2021, have not exhausted all rights to PUA, and are otherwise eligible for PUA benefits, there is a transition period through weeks of unemployment that begin no later than April 5, 2021, for which PUA benefits are payable. No PUA is payable for any week of unemployment beginning after April 5, 2021. In addition, the maximum PUA eligibility has been extended from 39 weeks to 50 weeks (minus the weeks the individual received regular unemployment benefits and Extended Benefits).
Both the PUA and PEUC were extended by President Donald Trump in December until March 14, the Department’s website states.
According to the Department of Labor, “Self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and people who have not worked long enough to qualify for the other types of unemployment assistance may still qualify for PUA if they are otherwise able to work and available for work within the meaning of the applicable state law and certify that they are unemployed, partially unemployed or unable or unavailable to work” for various COVID-19 reasons.
Claimants Must Submit the Documentation Within a 90-Day Period
According to NextAdvisor, PUA claimants now have a 90-day window — which varies by state — to turn in their new documentation. Many states, such as California, have detailed guidance about PUA on their websites.
“For workers who apply (or re-apply) for these benefits before January 31, they’ll have 90 days to provide this extra documentation” the outlet reported. “Failure to follow through with this extra verification could result in having to pay back any benefits received since the week of December 27, 2020.”
NextAdvisor added that overpayment recovery procedures also vary, including “offset of future benefits, reduction in tax returns, or other repayment plans.”
Although the 90-day period depends on the state, federal guidance says claimants must provide the documentation “within 90 days of the application date or the date the individual is instructed to provide such documentation by the state agency (whichever is later),” NextAdvisor continued.
For those who file between January 31 and the expiration date in March, they will have three weeks to submit the documentation, NextAdvisor said.
The Department of Labor says, “States must first verify that these workers are not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or Extended Benefits under state or federal law or PEUC. Beginning on Jan. 26, 2021, states must also implement stricter identification verification measures for PUA applicants. Applicants will also be required to provide documentation substantiating employment or self-employment.”
The requirements are not retroactive, according to CNBC.
Some Claimants May Have Already Submitted Parts of the Paperwork
NextAdvisor said some individuals may have already submitted a portion of the new required materials.
“Some people who qualified for more than the minimum PUA payment (because their loss of income was greater) already had to submit these documents,” the outlet reported. Those who only received 50 percent of their normal earnings probably have to file the extra documents, according to NextAdvisor.
To learn more about your status as a PUA claimant, as well as your state’s requirements, visit your state’s department of labor website.