Pennsylvania’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program April 20, 2020
Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) announced that the state has started accepting applications for its Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA program. Independent contractors, self-employed individuals, gig workers, and others who are not eligible for regular unemployment compensation benefits may now start applying for assistance through the PUA program, which are available through the recently passed CARES Act.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs since the Coronavirus outbreak began spreading across the country. The highly contagious respiratory illness has led to countless job closures as well as the shutdown of cities and states as social distance and shelter-at-home orders have come into effect. In the last three weeks alone, more than 16 million Americans applied for unemployment compensation as a result of being laid off from their jobs or because they began working reduced hours. But to the dismay of millions of workers whose jobs were also negatively impacted by COVID-19 – like independent contractors, gig workers, people who are self-employed or without sufficient work history, and clergy members – applying for unemployment was not an option. Luckily, these individuals may now begin applying for financial benefits comparable to the ones afforded to traditional employees, which during these trying economic times have the power to make a world of difference.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) classifies individuals as independent contractors: “if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.” In other words, independent contractors perform work or provide services under a contractual agreement with the payer – so instead of being considered employees they are self-employed. Although gig workers are usually called independent contractors, they can also be short-term or temporary employees. A few common examples of independent contractors and gig workers include:
- Uber and Lyft drivers,
- IT professionals,
- General contractors, and:
- Barbers and hair stylists
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program Benefits
Generally speaking, Pennsylvania’s PUA program will offer eligible workers:
- Unemployment benefits for up for 39 weeks,
- A weekly benefit rate (or WBR) that may not exceed the state’s maximum WBR of $572 and may not be less than one-half of the state’s minimum WBR of $195,
- Payments backdated as far as January 27th, 2020 or the first week that the applicant was unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19, and:
- Benefits that will not end before December 31st, 2020
Applicants who receive PUA benefits are also eligible to collect the additional $600 per week that is available through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, or FPUC. L&I is anticipating a high number of PUA applicants and warns that the system may start out slowly at first. The department hopes to begin issuing payments within 2 to 4 weeks of each applicant’s initial claim. If you are a Pennsylvania resident and would like to determine if you are eligible for benefits through the state’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, please visit https://pua.benefits.uc.pa.gov/vosnet/Default.aspx.
Now more than ever it is critical to stay informed. Pennsylvania residents who wish to stay up to date on important health and safety topics relating to COVID-19 in the state can visit: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx. For nationwide updates on COVID-19 from the CDC, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. We will continue to update our readers as this story develops.
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