Late Monday night, December 21, 2020, Congress passed an omnibus bill (H.R. 133) for federal government spending during the 2021 fiscal budget year, and also includes $900 billion in Covid-19 relief funding. The bill has been sent to the White House, awaiting the President’s signature.

The relief package includes a number of assistance provisions for small business, schools, hospitals, workers and their families. Of note are Economic Impact Payments that will be issued to the latter two groups as direct stimulus checks, and could go out as early as next week. Individuals making up to $75,000 as year will receive $600, and couples making up to $150,000 will receive $1200, plus there is an additional $600 payment per dependent.

This latest round of Coronavirus relief also includes a number of Unemployment Insurance (UI) measures. Highlights include:

Extension of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation: The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplement is restored to all state and federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week, starting after December 26 and ending March 14, 2021.

Extension of Emergency Unemployment Relief for Governmental Entities and Nonprofit Organizations: The CARES Act provision, which amended the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide federal support to cover 50% of the costs of unemployment benefits for employees of state and local governments and non-profit organizations, is extended through March 14, 2021.

Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation: A federally funded $100 per week additional benefit will be provided to individuals who have at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income, but are disqualified from receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) because they are eligible for regular state unemployment benefits. This mixed-earner supplemental benefit would be added to the FPUC and would terminate along with it on March 14, 2021. This provision would be effective for future unemployment benefit payments after a state chose to make an agreement with the Department of Labor.

Extension and Benefit Phase-out Rule for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation:

  1. Extends Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) to March 14, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 14, 2021 to continue through April 5, 2021, as long as the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks;
  2. Increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim through the PEUC program from 13 to 24.
  3. Provides rules for states about sequencing these benefits with other unemployment benefits.

 

Extension and Benefit Phase-out Rule for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance:

  1. Extends Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to March 14, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 14, 2021 to continue through April 5, 2021, as long as the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks.
  2. Increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim from 39 to 50.
  3. Provides for appeals to be at the state level.
  4. Provides states authority to waive overpayments made without fault on the part of the individual or when such repayment would violate equity and good conscience.
  5. Provides a transition rule for certain individuals transitioning between PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
  6. Limits payment of retroactive PUA benefits to weeks of unemployment after December 1, 2020.

Requirement to Substantiate Employment or Self-Employment and Wages Earned or Paid to Confirm Eligibility for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance:

  1. Effective January 31, 2021, requires new applicants for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to submit documentation to substantiate employment or self-employment within 21 days and provides for such deadline to be extended when an individual has shown good cause.
  2. Requires individuals receiving PUA as of January 31, 2021 to submit documentation to substantiate employment or self-employment within 90 days.

 

Requirement for States to Verify Identity of Applicants for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance:

  1. Requires states to have procedures in place to verify or validate the identity of PUA applicants, and for timely payment of benefits.
  2. Clarifies that expenses to implement such procedures qualify as an administrative cost and may be reimbursed as part of PUA operation.

Return to Work Reporting for CARES Act Agreements: Effective 30 days after enactment, states are required to have methods in place to address situations when claimants of unemployment compensation refuse to return to work or refuse to accept an offer of suitable work without good cause including: 1) A reporting method for employers to notify the state when an individual refuses employment. 2) A plain language notice to claimants about state return to work laws, rights to refuse to return to work or to refuse suitable work and information on contesting a denial of a claim, as well as what constitutes suitable work, including a claimant’s right to refuse work that poses a risk to the claimant’s health and safety.

Extension of Temporary Financing of Short-Time Compensation Payments in States with Programs in Law: Extends through March 14, 2021 the CARES Act provision which provided temporary 100 percent federal financing for Short-Time Compensation (“worksharing”) programs which are established in state law.

Extension of Temporary Financing of Short-Time Compensation Agreements for States Without Programs in Law: Extends through March 14, 2021 the CARES Act provision which provided a 50 percent subsidy to non-statutory, temporary state Short-Time Compensation programs.

Extension of Federal Funding of the First Week of Compensable Regular Unemployment for States with No Waiting Week: Extends through March 14, 2021 the CARES Act provision which reimbursed states for the cost of waiving the “waiting week” for regular unemployment compensation. The reimbursement percentage for weeks ending after December 26, 2020, is set at 50 percent.

To see a more complete summary of the provisions, click here.

Once H.R 133 is signed, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) will administer guidance to state UI agencies for implementing the amended and/or new relief provisions.