As coronavirus cases surge across the country and many workplaces remain closed, the U.S. Congress has failed to extend critical benefits for unemployed workers. In fact, approximately 39,000 unemployment recipients in the District will lose all benefits the day after Christmas.
As we wrote earlier this year, unemployment compensation is a critical safety net for jobless workers. It can allow District workers to pay for basic necessities – such as food, shelter, and medical care – and avoid falling into poverty. There is no cash assistance alternative to unemployment compensation. Legal Aid urgently calls upon Congress to extend these essential benefits and encourages District workers to act now to take advantage of these programs before they expire (see below).
In March 2020, the federal government passed the CARES Act, which provided emergency assistance for individuals and families affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. An important component of this law involved expanding unemployment assistance for workers that have a COVID-19 related job loss or reduction in income. The expansion included Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides 39 weeks of payments to those usually excluded from standard unemployment, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which extended standard unemployment from 26 to 39 weeks. Both of these critical programs – PUA and PEUC – expire on December 26, 2020. Again, as of December 14, 2020, the federal government has failed to extend these critical programs.
Workers in the District will be severely impacted by the lack of action by Congress. The District of Columbia has received over 160,000 claims for unemployment – a record shattering number. Mayor Muriel Bowser estimates that on December 26, 2020 in the District:
- Approximately 39% of unemployment recipients are slated to lose PUA benefits; and
- Approximately 36% of unemployment recipients will lose PEUC benefits.
Of note, standard unemployment and Extended Benefits remain eligible in 2021. (Extended Benefits are a second 13 week extension funded half by federal dollars and half by the District.) Unfortunately, PUA recipients are not eligible for Extended Benefits. That means at least 39,000 District workers will not have any access to unemployment programs after December 26, 2020. This is particularly troubling because the positive effects of extended unemployment benefits are larger for workers who lack funds for a rainy day – often women, people of color, and workers earning hourly wages.
ACT NOW: LAST CHANCE TO FILE
The last day to apply for PUA is December 31, 2020. Through this program, workers can apply for retroactive benefits back to the date of unemployment. Instructions on how to apply for PUA can be found here and the online application can be found here.
The last day to apply for an increase in your weekly benefit amount for PUA is December 31, 2020. The minimum weekly benefit amount for PUA is $179 per week. If you earned more than $1,560/month or $18,729 per year in 2019, you may be entitled to more than $179 per week. If you think you are entitled to a higher amount, email PUA@dc.gov requesting reconsideration of your weekly benefit amount by December 26, 2020. See Legal Aid’s flyer for more information.
All PEUC recipients who are still unemployed should file for Extended Benefits after PEUC expires on 12/26/2020. Information on the Extended Benefits program can be found here, and the application can be found here (follow the link “File for EB”).
If you filed an unemployment compensation or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claim in DC, you can apply for free legal help from Legal Aid by calling (202) 628-1161 or submitting an online intake. (Please note that Legal Aid’s online and telephone intake will be closed from December 21, 2020 through Friday, January 1, 2021. Legal Aid’s intake hours will reopen on Monday, January 4th.)