Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
On Thursday, April 9, 2020, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s administration announced the partial implementation of unemployment benefits in accordance with the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) has issued guidance on the Commonwealth’s implementation of the CARES Act and is rolling out three new public benefit programs: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation; Pandemic Unemployment Assistance; and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. The goals of the three programs are to expand unemployment eligibility, to increase weekly benefits for claimants temporarily, and to allow additional categories of people to claim unemployment benefits.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
The FPUC program will provide additional assistance – a flat $600 per week – to individuals who collect unemployment benefits through 1) the Commonwealth’s regular unemployment compensation program; 2) the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program; 3) the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program; 4) the Extended Benefits program; 5) the Trade Readjustment Act; or 6) the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program.
The DUA has already begun implementing the FPUC program for claimants applying for benefits through the Commonwealth’s regular unemployment program, and for these claimants, the additional $600 per week will begin immediately. Claimants applying for benefits through other channels (e.g., Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, etc.) will receive benefits as soon as their claims are processed and they are determined eligible.
Benefits under the FPUC program will be applied retroactively to March 29, 2020, and will continue until July 31, 2020. Notably, the $600 is given all eligible beneficiaries regardless of how much they are receiving in benefits, and does not decrease or prorate based on a person’s average weekly wage.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
The PUA program provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment assistance to gig economy workers, independent contractors, self-employed individuals, and others who may not qualify for unemployment compensation under the Commonwealth’s laws or other federal laws. Claimants may file PUA claims through a system built by a third-party vendor, not directly through Massachusetts’ Unemployment Insurance Online System, and can begin submitting PUA claims through that system on or around April 30, 2020.
Benefits under the PUA program will be applied retroactively to February 2, 2020, or to the first week the claimant was unable to work as a result of COVID-19, whichever date is later. The program will continue until the week ending December 26, 2020.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
The PEUC program provides up to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who have already exhausted their previous unemployment benefits. The first week a claimant can be compensated on this benefit is the week beginning March 29, 2020, and the last payable week is the week ending December 26, 2020. Presently, the DUA is awaiting additional federal guidance on how to implement and administer this program, and as such, PEUC benefits are not yet available.
The DUA’s guidance provides employers a detailed view of the new options available to displaced employees and to other workers. Because there is no precedent for benefits under the DUA’s new programs, it remains to be seen how claims will be processed through the lens of the new programs and how claims will be scrutinized by the DUA.
Note that this does not change Massachusetts employers’ obligations, which include providing the “How to Apply for Unemployment Insurance Benefits” document (Form 0590A) to all separated and furloughed employees, and timely and fully responding to inquiries from the DUA.