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Unemployment and the CARES Act: What you need to know

Unemployment benefits application

The Illinois Dept. of Employment Security has released updates on unemployment insurance programs that have been put in place in response to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Illinoisans’ jobs.

Employees who have become unemployed through no fault of their own are eligible for unemployment insurance. A new program covers those workers who are considered part of the “gig economy” or other independent contractors who were not eligible before.

There are three new federal programs under the CARES Act, the coronavirus stimulus package recently passed by Congress: The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)

FPUC provides an additional $600 per week for individuals receiving regular unemployment benefits, PUA, PEUC, or extended benefits if they are triggered under Illinois law, beginning March 29, 2020 and concluding the week ending July 25.

FPUC has been fully implemented and disbursement has begun.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

PEUC provides up to 13 additional weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits for individuals who have exhausted regular unemployment benefits.

IDES received USDOL guidelines on April 10 and expects the program can be implemented through the current IDES computer system the week of April 20, 2020.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

PUA provides up to 39 weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals not typically eligible for unemployment benefits, including independent contractors and sole-proprietors who have become unemployed as a direct result of COVID-19. This is also available for those who have exhausted their regular unemployment compensation and for those who have not been in the system long enough to qualify for unemployment compensation.

Do I qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?

In Illinois, every individual who is unemployed or underemployed should file a claim for unemployment benefits, even if they believe they are not covered by the unemployment system. There are two reasons Illinoisans currently unemployed through no fault of their own should still file a claim for regular unemployment benefits with IDES, even if they have been told they're not covered by the state’s regular unemployment insurance program - because they’re an independent contractor, part of the “gig economy,” or for some other reason.

First, it’s possible that whoever told them they were not covered was wrong. Workers who are employees covered by the unemployment insurance system are sometimes told they're not by their employers or other unofficial sources. Even if an individual’s employer does not consider the worker to be covered and doesn’t pay unemployment taxes on the individual’s wages, the individual can qualify for benefits if IDES determines he or she is covered under state law. An employer’s failure to contribute to the unemployment system will not impact a claimant’s eligibility for benefits. Although eligibility for benefits cannot be guaranteed, nothing prohibits people from filing a claim for regular benefits, as long as they truthfully complete the application.

Second, the PUA program has been established for individuals who are unemployed for reasons attributable to COVID-19 and not covered by the state’s regular unemployment insurance program. To establish eligibility under the new program, the claimant will have to demonstrate he/she is not eligible under the regular program. Applying for and being denied benefits under the regular program can help establish eligibility under the new temporary program.