Pennsylvania Unemployment Assistance Programs & COVID-19. What you need to know!

If you are confused about the various Pennsylvania unemployment programs, which include several unemployment assistance programs that were part of the federal CARES pandemic relief legislation enacted back in March, you are not alone.

The federal CARES pandemic relief legislation created three unemployment benefits programs (administered through state unemployment offices): (1) the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) program, providing unemployment benefits for certain individuals who are unemployed as a result of COVID-19 and who traditionally were ineligible for unemployment, such as gig-economy workers, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals otherwise ineligible for regular or traditional state unemployment benefits; (2) the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (“PEUC”) program, providing 13 additional weeks of regular or traditional state unemployment benefits for individuals whose state unemployment benefits would otherwise expire; and (3) the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program (“FPUC”) program, providing $600/week of additional unemployment benefits (if the individual received other unemployment benefits in that week.

Congress provided funding for the PUA and PEUC programs through the end of the year. Unfortunately for those receiving unemployment benefits, Congress and the President failed to agree on a replacement or extension of the $600/week FPUC program, and that program expired at the end of July. In response, on August 8, 2020, the President issued an executive memo establishing a new Lost Wages Assistance (“LWA”) program.

What is the LWA program? It is a program administered federally through the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Disaster Relief Fund as a grant program to the states, with the funds to be paid to eligible individuals through their state unemployment programs. The LWA program was designed to provide a $400/week “lost wages” benefit, $300/week of which is to come from the federal government, with the remaining $100/week to come as a match from the states (at least, those states that elect to participate). Unlike the FPUC, it is only available to eligible individuals impacted by the coronavirus pandemic who are already receiving more than $100/week of unemployment benefits. Further guidance from the federal government appears to allow states to meet the state’s match with that state’s underlying spending on traditional unemployment programs. This LWA benefit is available for weeks of unemployment ending on or after August 1, 2020 and ending on or before December 27, 2020, although as it is a FEMA grant program, it could end earlier if FEMA exhausts the funds allocated to this program or if Congress enacts new unemployment relief legislation.

FEMA appears to have begun approving states for the LWA program to provide the $300/week federal benefit, including Pennsylvania according to a press release from FEMA issued on Monday 8/24/20. However, it is not clear how long it will take for this LWA Program to be implemented in Pennsylvania, with FEMA announcing in its press release that it “…will work with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to implement a system to make this funding available to Pennsylvania residents.”

            If you are an unemployed Pennsylvania resident, regular or traditional state unemployment benefits, benefits from the PUA program, and extended benefits from the PEUC program may be available to you. In addition, the $300/week LWA benefit should become available to Pennsylvania residents when implemented. See the Pennsylvania state unemployment program website, www.uc.pa.gov for more information. We continue to monitor developments in this area and will post updates as they become available.

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