4 Ways the CARES Act Improves Unemployment Benefits


Posted by: Chris

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides trillions of dollars in benefits for millions of Americans and American companies. These benefits include business stimulus packages, student loan deferrals, and -- perhaps most importantly -- an expansion of unemployment benefits for those who have found themselves unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While the unemployment provisions in the CARES Act will not protect Americans from job loss, they may provide enough financial assistance to help workers weather these tough times.  Here are four ways the CARES Act improves state unemployment benefits:

1.  More workers qualify.

To qualify for unemployment benefits, you must usually meet a defined minimum in W-2 wages.  Typically, this has meant that anyone employed as a 1099 worker --- freelancers, independent contractors, etc. -- was excluded from claiming unemployment benefits.

The CARES Act extends unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to those who fail to meet the state minimum for W-2 wages, the self-employed, part-time workers, and those who have already exhausted their unemployment benefits. 

PUA benefits are available for up to 39 weeks until the end of 2020.  The minimum amount of benefits available is half of the state average weekly benefit of $539 plus an additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020. 

2.  Unemployment benefits will last longer.

Typically, qualified Oklahoma workers are eligible to receive up to 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits. Under the CARES Act, Oklahoma workers are allowed an additional 13 weeks of benefits under the PUA program. 

In addition, some workers may qualify for extended benefits through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program and another extension through PUA.  Workers whose regular benefits run out may first qualify for 13 weeks of extended benefits through the PEUC program.  If they are still unemployed at the end of this period, they may qualify for another extension of benefits under the PUA program of up to 13 weeks through the end of 2020.

3.  Benefit checks will be larger.

Any Oklahoma worker who qualifies for unemployment -- including 1099 workers -- will receive an additional $600/week automatically through July 31, 2020. 

4.  Waiting period waived.

Workers are generally required to wait a week after losing a job to start collecting unemployment benefits.  While the CARES Act did not require states to waive this waiting period, many states are waiving waiting periods, including Oklahoma.

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