Note: This article has been updated to reflect the new programs and provisions in the second stimulus package.
For the first time nationally, independent contractors and gig workers can receive unemployment benefits — through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Millions of Americans have relied on this program since it was created by the first stimulus package in March 2020.
Depending on your state, PUA effectively expired on Dec. 26 or 27. At the 11th hour, lawmakers rallied to pass a second stimulus package, extending the program for 11 weeks. However, some states had to pause making PUA payments as they implemented the new rules.
The Penny Hoarder looked at the application process in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. when the program was first created. We compiled the information into an interactive map that shows you how to file in each state, then updated the information based on new provisions laid out in the second stimulus package.
This guide will explain everything you need to know about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Here’s a look at what’s included. (Click a link to jump to the section you need.)
What Is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was established by the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package in March 2020 and was extended by the second stimulus package passed in December 2020.
PUA grants unemployment benefits to people who don’t typically qualify for their state’s regular unemployment program. A whole new set of people are now eligible for unemployment benefits — namely gig workers, independent contractors and furloughed workers.
To be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, you must be fully or partially unemployed due to one or more of the following reasons:
- You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms and are seeking diagnosis.
- A member of your household has COVID-19.
- You are taking care of someone with COVID-19.
- You are caring for a child or other household member who can’t attend school or work because it is closed due to the pandemic.
- You are quarantined by order of a doctor or health official.
- You were scheduled to start employment and don’t have a job or can’t reach their workplace as a result of the pandemic.
- You have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household died due to COVID-19.
- You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
- Your workplace is closed as a direct result of COVID-19.
If you have already exhausted your state’s Unemployment Insurance benefits, you may receive additional benefits through PUA.
Weekly PUA pays half of your state’s average unemployment payment. Average state payments range from roughly $180 to $480, meaning that you can expect PUA payments between $90 and $240 weekly.
If you are approved for at least $1 in unemployment benefits, you will also be eligible for a $300 weekly boost for up to 11 weeks and until March 14, 2021. This $300 boost is known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC).
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How the Second Stimulus Package Changes PUA
Initially, the CARES Act authorized PUA payments for a maximum of 39 weeks. The second stimulus package extended PUA to 50 weeks total — or 11 extra weeks.
PUA now sunsets on March 14, 2021, unless extended by Congress and the Biden administration. Those who haven’t exhausted their PUA benefits as of March 14, 2021, may continue receiving benefits until April 5, 2021.
One new and notable limitation: PUA used to be available retroactively as far back as January 2020. The new stimulus law tightens the window for retroactive PUA payments to Dec. 1, 2020, through March 14, 2021.
All PUA recipients should be expecting to file more paperwork, too. To curb fraud, the second stimulus deal forces current and new PUA recipients to submit documents related to employment or self-employment, according to the DOL.
The exact documents needed will be determined by your state agency, which is required to notify you. The deadline to file those documents is March 27, 2021. Defer to your state’s deadline if different.
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How to File for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, State by State
Our interactive map includes PUA filing instructions for all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Based on The Penny Hoarder’s analysis, 35 states and D.C. process PUA applicants using the same application for general unemployment. Only 15 states have separate PUA applications.
Here’s how we broke it down on the map.
To determine PUA eligibility, most states funnel applicants through the Unemployment Insurance system first. Those states require you to file two applications: state unemployment first, then PUA.
In such states, you must get denied Unemployment Insurance (UI) before applying for PUA. Only a handful of states have one streamlined, general unemployment application that determines your eligibility for both PUA or regular benefits.
For simplicity — and because in both instances your first step is filing a general unemployment claim — both methods are categorized as “general unemployment (UI)” on the map, in dark blue.
To see if you need to file two applications or one streamlined version, click your state on the map for specific filing instructions.
States marked in light blue have a PUA application separate from the regular Unemployment Insurance system. If you are a resident of one of these states, you can file for PUA directly so long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
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Documents Needed to File for PUA
If you’re ready to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, you’ll need to gather several types of identification- and income-related documents.
Your state may require a few additional documents, but here’s an overview:
- State-issued ID card.
- Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number.
- Mailing and residential address (if different).
- Bank account information for direct deposit, otherwise your benefits will arrive via a prepaid debit card or check.
- Tax return: Form 1040, Schedule C, F and/or SE.
- As many income statements as possible: bank receipts with deposit information, 1099 forms, W-2s, paycheck stubs, income summaries and business ledgers.
Income statements and related documents are crucial to proving how and when the coronavirus affected your earnings. For freelancers and independent contractors, it may be difficult to compile everything. Include as much as possible.
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Due to new rules outlined in the second stimulus package, state labor departments are once again scrambling. Hiccups should be expected while applying for, asking about or submitting documents related to PUA. Many gig workers and independent contractors warn of website crashes, unavailable customer service, confusing questionnaires and more.
Perseverance is key.
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.