I have been told I can’t collect unemployment. What do I do now?

I have been told I can’t collect unemployment. What do I do now?

Cassidy Chansirik

As of May 8, 2020, The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the unemployment rate is 14.7% because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the number may be even higher. 


Real unemployment is the number of individuals who are jobless. As of May 28, 2020, 37.4 million Americans are jobless. This means that the real unemployment rate in the United States is 23.9%.  


With so many American jobs directly impacted by the pandemic, immediate financial assistance is necessary. 


That is why on May 27, 2020, the federal government passed a $2.2 trillion relief package known as the CARES Act to provide financial assistance to the unemployed. 


Under the CARES Act, any individual who has become unemployed since March due to the pandemic and qualifies for state unemployment benefits laws prior to the COVID-19 pandemic is automatically eligible to receive $600 a week from Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). This weekly assistance is in addition to state unemployment benefits and is available through July 31. 


The House of Representatives has proposed a follow-up stimulus package to extend the FPUC until the end of January 2021, known as the HEROES Act. However, the Senate has stated that it is not likely the HEROES Act will pass in its current form. 


How can I qualify for state unemployment benefits? 


Each state has their own set of criteria that needs to be met in order to obtain unemployment benefits. 


In general, the Department of Labor reports that you need to meet the following two criteria: 


  1. You must meet your state’s requirements for wages earned or time worked for an established period of time. This is known as the base period. 
  2. You must lose your job through no fault of your own. Each state has different ways to determine this, so it’s important to check with your own state’s unemployment insurance agency here

If you qualify for state unemployment benefits, the amount you receive will depend on where you live. You can find out more information about unemployment insurance in your own state here. 


Why would I be denied state benefits? 

To be denied state benefits, your unemployment is caused by a reason other than a “lack of work” and you do not meet your state’s unemployment qualifications for benefits prior to COVID-19. 



If I did not qualify for my state’s unemployment benefits prior to COVID-19, am I still eligible for unemployment assistance under the CARES Act?


If you did not qualify for your state’s unemployment benefits prior to COVID-19, you may still be eligible for unemployment assistance called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). 


Under the CARES Act, anyone who is self-employed, a gig worker, an independent contractor, or working part-time is eligible for PUA, so long as one of the following reasons applies: 

  • You or someone in your home is diagnosed with COVID-19, awaiting COVID-19 test results, or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms
  • You are caring for a family member or someone in your home who has COVID-19
  • You are caring for a child because of a COVID-19 school or daycare closure
  • You have been asked to quarantine by a medical professional or government entity
  • You are unable to work or access your job because of COVID-19
  • You have quit your job because of COVID-19 
  • Your workplace is closed because of COVID-19
  • You are unable to start a new job because of COVID-19 
  • You are now the main source of income for your household because of a death caused by COVID-19


Who is not eligible for federal unemployment assistance? 


You are not eligible for federal PUA if any of the following applies to you: 

  • You have voluntarily left work without good cause
  • You were discharged for misconduct at work 
  • You are not able or available to work
  • You refuse an offer for suitable work
  • You make false statements to obtain unemployment assistance 


Does my state offer PUA and will it be able to help me? 


In addition to the federal PUA offered under the CARES Act, each state has their own PUA program that may be able to help you. 


Here, we’ve listed the state-level PUA program guidelines for California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas. 



In California, the PUA program helps any unemployed Californian who does not qualify for regular state unemployment benefits, State Disability Insurance, or Paid Family Leave.


This includes business owners, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals


PUA is available for up to 39 weeks.


The maximum PUA benefit is $450 per week


If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may also qualify for PUA only if you were legally working in the country when you were impacted by COVID-19. 


To file for PUA in California, you can apply through UI Online, or by phone, fax, or mail



In Florida, you are eligible for PUA if you became unemployed, unable to work, or have become the main source of income because of a household death as a direct result of COVID-19.  


You are also eligible for PUA if you do not qualify for state Reemployment Assistance. This includes self-employed individuals, contract employees, and gig workers


PUA is available for up to 39 weeks.


The maximum benefit you can receive is  to $275 per week


In order to file for PUA, you must complete your Reemployment Assistance benefits application here.


It’s important to note that if you applied for Reemployment Assistance before April 4, 2020, you must submit a new application. 



In Illinois, there are many qualifications you can satisfy in order to receive PUA. You may qualify if any of the following applies to you: 


  • You have run out of state unemployment benefits
  • You are an employee of a nonprofit church or religious organization that does not pay unemployment
  • You are self-employed 
  • You are an independent contractor
  • You have been directly impacted by COVID-19 


If any of the following applies to you, you can file a PUA claim online. Once you have filed your claim, you must continue to certify for benefits each week your work is impacted by COVID-19. 


New York 

In New York, you are eligible for PUA if any of the following applies to you: 

  • You are self-employed
  • You are an independent contractor
  • You are a farmer
  • You have been impacted directly by COVID-19


You are not eligible for PUA if you are receiving paid sick leave, any other benefits, or can telework. 


If you qualify for PUA, your benefit rate will be calculated based on your recent earnings. 


You can file for PUA online. Once you file for PUA, you must continue to certify for weekly benefits for each week you are unemployed. 



In Texas, you can qualify for PUA if you are self-employed, seeking part-time work, or do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation under state or federal law. 


If you qualify for PUA, you may be able to receive benefits for a maximum of 39 weeks. The minimum weekly amount is $207 and the maximum is $521. 


To file for PUA, you must first apply for state unemployment. When the application asks the reason for job separation, you should select “reduced hours.” If your reduced hours are because of COVID-19, you should select “COVID-19” under the disaster impact section. 


By doing this, you will initially be denied state unemployment benefits. Because of this denial, the system will automatically enroll you for PUA benefits. 



If you want to learn more about regular state unemployment benefits and how much you can receive, check out some more information here. If you have any more questions, please feel free to read LawChamps' resources page or reach out to us for more help. 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

Cassidy Chansirik

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