The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance provided the following Q&A about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program that was created by the Federal CARES Act.
The new program provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who are not eligible for other types of unemployment, including gig-workers, self-employed, those who have lost work hours and people who had a job offer rescinded due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Find out more information and how to apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program by clicking here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the CARES Act provide benefits to workers who have been ineligible for regular or extended benefits until now?
Yes. The CARES Act provides a program separate from regular unemployment benefits. The new program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), extends eligibility to individuals who:
- are self-employed, including gig workers, freelancers, and independent contractors;
- are seeking part-time employment;
- have an insufficient work history to qualify for benefits;
- have exhausted all rights to regular or extended benefits under state or federal law or to Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC);
- have been laid off from churches and religious institutions and are not eligible for benefits under state law; or
- are otherwise not qualified for regular or extended benefits or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
What must these workers establish to qualify for benefits?
Individuals must provide “self-certification” that they are otherwise able and available to work, but are prevented from doing so by one of the following circumstances relating to COVID-19:
- The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a diagnosis; or
- A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
- The individual is providing care to a household or family member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
- A child or other person for whom the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility as a result of COVID-19; or
- The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
- The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine; or
- The individual was scheduled to start work and does not have a job or cannot reach the job as a result of COVID-19; or
- The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19; or
- The individual has to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19; or
- The individual’s place of employment is closed because of COVID-19; or
- The individual works as an independent contractor and the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited his or her ability to continue performing his or her usual work activities, and has thereby forced the individual to stop performing those activities.
Under what circumstances will these workers not qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
Individuals able to telework with pay and individuals receiving paid sick or other leave will not qualify for PUA. Individuals receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits for less than their customary work week, however, may still be eligible for PUA.
What weeks will Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) cover?
It will be effective for weeks of unemployment beginning on or after 2/2/20 and ending 12/26/20.
What is the maximum number of weeks for which an individual qualifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) can receive benefits?
An individual can receive benefits for a maximum of 39 weeks, including regular UI and extended benefits under any federal or state law, though additional extended benefit weeks could be added later. Also, there is no waiting week.
How much will I receive in benefits?
The amount of PUA benefits you will receive is based on your previous income reported. PUA benefits may not be more than the state’s maximum weekly benefit rate for regular unemployment benefits, which is $823.00 in Massachusetts.
All individuals collecting PUA will also receive $600 per week from Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), in addition to weekly benefits as calculated above. Individuals will be eligible for FPUC payments for the weeks ending April 4, 2020 through July 25, 2020.
My hours have been reduced. Can I collect benefits under PUA?
If you are working fewer hours due to COVID-19 and it has resulted in a loss in income, and you are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, you may be eligible for PUA.
I am self-employed and my income and hours have declined greatly because of COVID-19. Am I eligible for PUA?
Self-employed individuals, independent contractors, or gig workers who have had to suspend their work because of COVID-19, or had a significant reduction in work, may be eligible for PUA. In cases where an individual has partial earnings, these earnings must be reported, and their weekly benefit amount may be reduced.
I am a small business owner. Am I eligible for PUA?
You may be eligible for PUA if your primary source of income is from work you do for your own business or on your own farm.
I have never worked before. Am I eligible for PUA?
You may be eligible for PUA even if you have never worked before and
- you were scheduled to commence employment and do not have a job or are unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; OR
- your job offer was rescinded because of COVID-19; OR
- you have become the breadwinner or major supporter for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.
If I am eligible for (or currently receiving) regular unemployment benefits, should I apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
No. PUA benefits are not payable to individuals who are eligible for regular unemployment benefits.
How do I determine if I should apply for regular unemployment benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should first file a claim for regular unemployment benefits to see if you are eligible before filing a claim for PUA benefits:
- Did you earn more than $5100.00 in 2019 working for an employer who took taxes out of your paycheck?
- Did you earn more than $5100.00 in 2019 working for the Federal government or in the military?
- Are you eligible for, or receiving, benefits from other unemployment insurance programs such as regular unemployment benefits, Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA), Disaster Unemployment Assistance from a prior natural disaster, or WorkShare benefits?
- Did you work in another state in addition to working in Massachusetts in 2019?
If you filed a claim for unemployment assistance in the past 52 weeks, did you return to work or stop collecting benefits before you claimed all the available benefits on that claim?
If I have already applied for unemployment, should I also apply for PUA?
No, you should not apply for this benefit if you have a pending application for unemployment. If you have applied for and did not qualify or were denied for regular unemployment benefits, then you should apply for PUA if you are out of work due to COVID-19. If you are eligible for or receiving regular unemployment benefits, you may not apply and will not be eligible for this benefit.
If I do not provide accurate information on my application, will I have to repay benefits received?
Yes. As with any unemployment claim, you are required to provide accurate information or face penalties including denial of benefits and repayment of benefits. If you knowingly provide inaccurate information or fail to disclose required information, you could be subject to criminal prosecution.
Will I have to pay federal and state taxes on benefits received?
Yes, all PUA and FPUC benefits will be subject to Massachusetts and federal taxes.
I was self-employed, or a gig worker, and did not receive a regular paycheck. How do I calculate my income for purposes of completing a PUA application?
Individuals may use a variety of documents to calculate their income, including W-2s, 1099s, tax returns, pay stubs, bank receipts and billing notices. Individuals should retain all documents establishing income for verification purposes.