Relief Expected by Mid-April for Self-Employed, others

Mike Seals - April 2, 2020 9:06 am

OKLAHOMA CITY – Passage of the CARES Act last week represents the largest expansion of unemployment insurance in the nation’s history. Implementation of the Act is still being worked out by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL).

“We’re grateful we will be able to provide temporary relief to individuals previously ineligible for unemployment insurance,” said Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Robin Roberson. “The plan will be administered by the federal government and disbursed through state workforce agencies.”

States have been told the money should be available around mid-April. USDOL is currently developing eligibility guidelines for non-traditional claimants to file under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provisions of CARES.

“Eligibility is key for gig workers, independent contractors, and others to file a claim for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” Roberson said. “We want Oklahomans to understand that the state does not create the eligibility requirements for this temporary assistance. We are required to follow the guidelines set out by USDOL.”

Oklahoma, like many states, will be required to re-tool its current Disaster Unemployment Assistance program to provide a platform for non-traditional claimants to file for temporary relief due to a COVID-19 related work stoppage. This will occur rapidly once USDOL issues its guidance as to how the PUA funds will be distributed.

“Pandemic Unemployment Assistance if a fully-funded provision of the CARES Act,” Roberson said. “In general, it provides 39 weeks of benefits to self-employed individuals who are out of work because of COVID-19. Other provisions of the Act provide additional benefits or extended benefits to traditional unemployment insurance claimants.”

USDOL sets a minimum benefit level for declared disasters. For qualified individuals, the minimum weekly benefit amount will be $189. The actual benefit could go as high as the state maximum weekly benefit amount of $539. An individual’s benefit will be based on proof of income provided by the individual filing the claim.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program provides temporary benefits to any individual who is not otherwise eligible for, or has exhausted all rights to, unemployment benefits and is unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work due to any COVID-19 related circumstances including:

  • diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • a member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • the individual is providing care for a family member or household member diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • the individual is the primary caregiver for a child or other household member who is unable to attend school or other facility closed as a direct result of COVID-19 and such school or facility is required for the individual to work;
  • the individual is unable to reach the place of employment because a health-care provider has advised self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
  • the individual was schedule to begin employment and does not have a job or cannot reach the job due to COVID-19;
  • the individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of household died as a result of COVID-19;
  • the individual has been forced to quit a job due to COVID-19;
  • the individuals place of employment is closed due to COVID-19;
  • the individual meets any additional criteria established by the Secretary for unemployment assistance under this section; or
  • is self-employed, is seeking part-time employment, does not have sufficient work history, or otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment or extended benefits under state or federal law or Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation under Section 2107 and meets the regular, extended or PEUC benefits

The Act does not apply to individuals able to telework with pay or are already receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.

In Oklahoma, and under the CARE Act, individuals are not required to be actively seeking work to receive benefits under the program.

Benefits under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program are available for the duration of the covered individual’s period of unemployment, partial unemployment, or inability to work up to a maximum of 39 weeks.

The federal law mirrors action already taken by Director Roberson in that it waives the one-week waiting period before being eligible to file a claim for benefits.

The CARES Act also states that eligible individuals will receive unemployment benefits at the state level plus $600 under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provision of the Act.

Regarding gig workers, independent contractors and other self-employed individuals eligible to receive federal unemployment relief would also be eligible for the additional $600 per week under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program.

In the interim, laid-off workers should file for benefits whether they know they qualify. Meanwhile, many employers urgently need workers. Look for jobs at www.okjobmatch.com.

Unemployment Claims may be securely filed online at www.unemployment.ok.gov.

 

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