What Is Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)?

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) is an emergency program designed to help Americans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was established by the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency stimulus package signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020.

The benefits under the PEUC program were due to expire on Dec. 31, 2020; however, the PEUC was extended to March 14, 2021, and the number of weeks that an individual can claim PEUC benefits has been increased from 13 to 24 weeks.

In other words, an additional 11 weeks were added to the original 13 weeks of extended benefits for a maximum of 24 weeks. There are additional benefits for some qualified individuals but it's important to check with your state to determine your eligibility for federal benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • The CARES Act created the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, extending unemployment insurance for 13 weeks to those who exhausted their benefits.
  • Although the benefits under the PEUC program were due to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, the PEUC was extended to March 14, 2021.
  • Also, under the PEUC, the total number of weeks that an individual can claim benefits has been increased from 13 to 24 weeks.
  • The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program also provides an additional $300 per week for unemployment beginning after Dec. 26, 2020, and ending on or before March 14, 2021.
  • States are required to offer flexibility to applicants in meeting PEUC eligibility requirements related to "actively seeking work" if an applicant's ability to find work is affected by COVID-19.
  • Please check with your state since the states determine your eligibility for federal benefits and the amount and duration of the federal benefits.

Understanding Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

As states and businesses have shuttered due to the COVID-19 crisis, millions of laid-off workers in the U.S. continue to depend on unemployment insurance (UI) to help cover rent, groceries, and other expenses. But what if you are already unemployed and your benefits have run out?

The CARES Act established the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program to allow people who had exhausted their unemployment compensation benefits to receive up to 13 additional weeks of benefits, provided they "are able to work, available to work, and actively seeking work."

As stated earlier, the benefits under the PEUC program were due to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, but were extended to March 14, 2021, as a result of the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020 (Continued Assistance Act). The act was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 27, 2020, as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. Also, individuals can collect unemployment benefits for a total of 24 weeks (versus the original 13 weeks under the CARES Act).

However, please note that the amount and duration of federal benefits that you're eligible for depend on the laws within the state where you last worked. In other words, the state determines your eligibility for any additional federal benefits.

For those who haven't exhausted all of their benefits during the week ending March 14, 2021, the program provides for continuing benefits for eligible individuals for weeks of unemployment through April 5, 2021. In other words, no PEUC will be paid for any week of unemployment beginning after April 5, 2021.

A one-time stimulus check for $600, and other benefits for qualified individuals, was passed as part of the Continued Assistance Act. However, these funds are not an unemployment benefit and are due to be administered by the U.S. Treasury Department.

States are required to offer flexibility to applicants in meeting PEUC eligibility requirements related to "actively seeking work" if an applicant's ability to find work is affected by COVID-19. Individual states will offer guidance on reporting requirements. Some states, for example, allow you to answer "Yes" to the question: "Did you look for work?" if you are filing due to COVID-19 and didn't actually look for work.

Unemployment Programs in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

In addition to the PEUC program, the CARES Act extends unemployment benefits through two other initiatives: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is a program that temporarily expands unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility to self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, gig workers, and part-time workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The PUA is designed for individuals who are not typically eligible for (or exhausted) their unemployment insurance benefits. The PUA was extended and now expires on March 14, 2021. It had been set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020.

You must provide self-certification that you’re able and available to work and that you’re unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to a COVID-19-related situation.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program had provided an additional $600 weekly to unemployment benefits, but the benefit expired on July 31, 2020. However, in late December of 2020, the FPUC was modified and extended as part of the Continued Assistance Act. The FPUC was modified to provide an additional $300 per week in benefits. The funds are available for any weeks of unemployment beginning after Dec. 26, 2020, and ending on or before March 14, 2021.

The reauthorization means that an extra $300 per week will be automatically added to unemployment benefits. However, the new FPUC additional benefit is not payable during the gap from July 31, 2020, to Dec. 26, 2020. In other words, the $600 in extra money that was added to unemployment benefits ended on July 31, 2020, and the $300 doesn't kick in until after Dec. 26, 2020.

Outline of Programs in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Program CARES Act Continued Assistance Act
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) Extends benefits for an extra 13 weeks after regular unemployment compensation benefits are exhausted. Extends PEUC by 11 weeks to 24 weeks.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Extends benefits to self-employed, freelancers, and independent contractors.  PUA extended: Expires Mar. 14, 2021.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) Provided a federal benefit of $600 per week: Expired July 31, 2020. Adds extra $300 per week: Expires Mar. 14, 2021.

Sources: H.R. 748 and U.S. Department of Labor

If you have applied or are planning on applying for unemployment insurance under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, be sure to check with your individual state to determine when your last PUA payment will be issued.

How to Apply for PEUC

Anyone who has exhausted their regular unemployment compensation benefits can get an extra 24 weeks of benefits through the PEUC program. 

To receive PEUC, you must be actively engaged in looking for work. However, the bill specifies that "a State shall provide flexibility in meeting such [work search] requirements in case of individuals unable to search for work because of COVID-19, including because of illness, quarantine, or movement restriction." Individual states will offer guidance on how to extend benefits through this program.

In addition to the weekly benefit amount you can receive under PEUC, you will also be eligible for $300 per week under the FPUC program beginning after Dec. 26, 2020, and ending on or before March 14, 2021.

A "non-reduction" rule in the CARES Act prevents states from doing anything to decrease the maximum number of weeks of unemployment insurance or the weekly benefits available under state law as of Jan. 1, 2020.

Special Considerations

Federal law allows considerable flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits in several COVID-19-related situations. States can, for instance, pay benefits when:

  • An employer temporarily closes due to COVID-19, preventing employees from going to work
  • A person is quarantined and anticipates going back to work after the quarantine is over
  • A person stops working due to a risk of COVID-19 exposure or infection, to care for a family member, or to homeschool their children

Under federal law, an employee doesn't have to quit to receive benefits due to COVID-19.

To find out the rules in your state, check with your state's unemployment insurance program.