What Is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is a program that temporarily expands unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility to self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

PUA is one of the programs established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus emergency stimulus package that President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27, 2020. The Act expands states' ability to provide unemployment insurance to many workers affected by COVID-19, including people who aren't ordinarily eligible for unemployment benefits. 

Key Takeaways

  • Established by the CARES Act, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) temporarily expands unemployment insurance eligibility to self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers.
  • You must provide self-certification that you are able to work and available for work, and that you are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to a COVID-19-related situation.
  • Benefit amounts are calculated based on previous earnings, using a formula from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program under the Stafford Act.
  • Under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, those who were eligible for PUA also received $600 per week through July 31, 2020.
  • Workers are eligible for retroactive benefits and can receive benefits for up to 50 weeks.

Understanding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program runs from Jan. 27, 2020, through March 13, 2021. It extends unemployment benefits to eligible self-employed workers, including:

  • Freelancers and independent contractors
  • Workers seeking part-time work
  • Workers who don't have a work history long enough to qualify for state unemployment insurance benefits
  • Workers who otherwise wouldn't qualify for benefits under state or federal law

Workers who can telework with pay are not eligible for PUA benefits. Individuals must also be authorized to work to be eligible for PUA, so undocumented workers do not qualify.

If you 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 PUA

To be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), you must provide self-certification that you are able to work and available for work, and that you are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to one of these COVID-19-related situations:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and are trying to get diagnosed
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • You are providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19
  • You are providing care for a child or other household member who can't go to school or to a care facility because it's closed due to COVID-19
  • You are quarantined or have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine
  • You were scheduled to start a job and no longer have the job or can't reach the job due to COVID-19
  • You have become the primary earner for a household because the head of household died as a direct result of COVID-19
  • You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19
  • Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19
  • You meet other criteria set forth by the Secretary of Labor

Benefit amounts are calculated based on previous earnings, using a formula from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. PUA has a minimum benefit that's equal to 50% of the state's average weekly UI benefit (about $190 per week).

Workers are eligible for retroactive benefits and can receive benefits for up to 50 weeks, including any weeks during which the worker received regular unemployment insurance.

Many state's UI websites crashed or experienced lags because of the huge numbers of people trying to apply for UI benefits. Watch for updates on the program website, and be aware that many states indicate they will backdate claims to the date you first became unemployed.

Three New Unemployment Programs Under the CARES Act

In addition to the PUA program, the CARES Act extends unemployment benefits through two other initiatives: the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. FPUC is a flat amount given to people who receive unemployment insurance, including those who get a partial unemployment benefit check. It applies to people who receive benefits under PUA and PEUC.

Program What it Does
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Extends benefits to the self-employed, freelancers, and independent contractors. 
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) Extends benefits for an extra 13 weeks after regular unemployment compensation benefits are exhausted.
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) Provides a federal benefit of $600 a week through July 31, 2020. 

Source: H.R. 748 - CARES Act.

The Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program, which provides $300 to $400 in weekly compensation to eligible claimants, was established Aug. 8, 2020, following the expiration of FPUC at the end of July 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

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is intended to support workers who would not otherwise be eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI). Examples of the types of workers targeted by the PUA program include freelancers, part-time “gig workers,” and those who are self-employed. To qualify, workers must certify they are unable to work due to one or several conditions related to COVID-19. This program was introduced as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March 2020.

Are PUA and Unemployment Insurance (UI) the same thing?

No, the PUA and UI programs are different. In order to qualify for PUA, the worker must not be eligible for UI. Although they are different programs, the intention of both programs is the same: Providing financial support to unemployed workers. In the case of PUA, the program was introduced specifically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as it was found that traditional UI programs did not provide adequate support for those working outside of permanent full-time jobs.

Can I get PUA and UI at the same time?

No, it is not possible to receive PUA and UI at the same time. If a worker qualifies for UI, they cannot also qualify for PUA. Likewise, PUA is only available to workers who do not qualify for UI.