Eight Most Asked Questions About the CARES Act and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program

Updated on May 4, 2020
MarleneB profile image

Marlene is a business owner with employees. Understanding employment laws and how they affect the company and employees is imperative.

If you are unemployed due to COVID-19, the CARES Act and PUA can help.
If you are unemployed due to COVID-19, the CARES Act and PUA can help. | Source

1. What is the CARES Act?

First of all, CARES is an acronym for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security. This is a government sponsored program, passed by Congress on March 29, 2020 that runs in conjunction with current unemployment insurance programs.

Under the CARES Act, a program called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was specifically created to come to the aid of workers affected by the COVID-19 virus. This program is designed to provide financial assistance to workers who would not be generally eligible for unemployment insurance under its regular qualification standards.

2. What qualifies as a COVID-19 unemployment situation?

There are several scenarios in which a person might find themselves unemployed and the laws allow states to pay benefits under the following circumstances:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work,
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over, or
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

3. Who is eligible to seek financial assistance with the PUA Program?

If you have been impacted by COVID-19 and if you are able to work, including if you are actively seeking work, you are eligible to seek financial assistance with the PUA program if you are:

  • an unemployed or partially employed gig worker,
  • an independent contractor,
  • a freelancer,
  • a self-employed business person, or
  • seeking employment.

You may also be eligible to seek assistance if you have an insufficient work history that prevents you from qualifying for unemployment insurance benefits or if your unemployment benefits have been exhausted.

4. How do I apply for PUA?

You can apply for PUA the same as you would apply for regular unemployment insurance. Starting April 28, 2020, the Employment Development Department (EDD) began taking applications on their website.

Note: If you have W2 wages, even if they are smaller than your 1099 wages, you still need to file a claim through the regular unemployment insurance system and not the PUA.

As a PUA applicant you would self-declare your income for the 2019 tax year and while you will not need to submit any documents during your initial application, you will need to show income from 2019. It will be helpful to have the following documents handy to help you answer questions adequately on the application:

  • Schedule C Tax Forms
  • 1099s

5. How much will I receive in benefits?

If you are a successful applicant, you will initially receive the minimum benefit amount of $167 per week, plus, an additional $600 per week as promised by the CARES Act.

For those who are unemployed due to the pandemic, there are three phases to the program’s payout:

  • Phase 1: $167 per week for each week you were unemployed from Feb. 2, 2020 to March 28, 2020.
  • Phase 2: $167 plus $600 per week for each week you were unemployed from March 29, 2020 to July 25, 2020.
    Note: The extra $600 per week comes from the federal CARES Act, which is currently only in effect through July.
  • Phase 3: $167 per week for each week you are unemployed from July 26, 2020 to Dec. 26, 2020.

The EDD notes that claims will be backdated to when you became directly impacted by COVID-19, however, the additional $600 per week Federal benefit will only apply to weekly claims from March 29 through July 25, 2020.

Note: If you are already collecting certain unemployment benefits, including unemployment compensation, and if you are eligible, you will receive an additional $600 in federal benefits per week for weeks of unemployment ending on or before July 31, 2020.

6. How do I receive more than the minimum weekly benefit?

First, your PUA claim must be accepted. Then, you will be able to potentially increase your weekly benefit by certifying your actual pay from your business or gig work in 2019. To certify your income, you will need to send in supporting documents to the EDD. Once they analyze your documents and verify your income, they may adjust your weekly benefit payment from the minimum of $167 to a possible maximum of a weekly amount of $450.

The following documents qualify as supporting documents:

  • Annual Tax Return
  • 1099 Forms
  • W-2s
  • Pay Stubs

It could take up to 21 days for the certification process to be completed. And, if you are awarded additional assistance, it will also be backdated to when you first received unemployment assistance.

7. How long am I eligible for PUA benefits?

PUA benefits will be available for a maximum of 39 weeks. The program ends December 26, 2020 unless the government extends it further.

8. How long will it take to receive my benefits?

If you already have an EDD debit card from a previous unemployment claim, you should receive your benefits within two days. If you are a new applicant, you can expect to receive benefits within four to seven days upon receiving your new unemployment debit card and mailed checks.

Apply as soon as possible.

Starting April 28, 2020, if you are an eligible worker, you may submit your application to EDD online. It can take up to 21 days to receive a decision and then once a decision is made, payment can take up to four days under the PUA program.

More Resources:

Official information from the White House Task Force about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). https://www.coronavirus.gov/

Information about the coronavirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/

Learn how to File for Unemployment Insurance https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/unemployment-insurance

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Marlene Bertrand


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    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      7 weeks ago from USA

      Thank you Liza. It can be confusing to cut through all the processes and procedures when working with the government. I truly do hope this information helps people get through it all with ease.

    • lizmalay profile image


      8 weeks ago from USA

      Great information about how people can get assistant through the unemployment program. I'm sure a lot of people have got an impact on the coronavirus this year. I hope this can be an alternative way to help people who have lost their job. Thanks for sharing this, Marlene.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      8 weeks ago from USA

      Thank you, Aurelio, I do hope your questions were ultimately answered and that everything turned out alright for you.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      8 weeks ago from Orange County, CA

      I wish I'd known about your hub earlier this year -- it would've answered so many of my questions. Very helpful.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      Hi Chitrangada, there is no doubt there is a lot of destruction associated with the Coronavirus. I do hope that this information reaches those who need help and are able to find it here.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      3 months ago from New Delhi, India

      This is an important and informative article, during these difficult times.

      This pandemic has created too much destruction—loss of precious lives, unemployment, psychological problems etc. The government authorities are trying their best to help the citizens of their respective countries.

      I just hope and pray that all this is over soon.

      I am sure many people will benefit from the information, you have provided. Thanks for sharing this helpful article.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      Yes, it is a much needed program that makes it easy for self employed people to get the help they need.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      3 months ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      Very useful and very important information for those who are seeking unemployment assistance under this program.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      Hi Dora! And thank you for your thoughtfulness. I do hope it provides the answers people need.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 months ago from The Caribbean

      Very helpful article, Marlene, and also thoughtful. Thank you for spelling this out for those who can benefit from it. Forwarding it.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      Hi Catherine! Thank you for your feedback. I do hope this article is able to help people get the assistance they need.

    • catmalone profile image


      3 months ago

      Very informative Hub. Many people will appreciate this write-up. The summary is GREAT!

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      Thank you for your feedback Chuck. I do hope it is helpful to have all of the information in one place.

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 months ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Very good summary. I am sure it will be helpful to those who have been laid off during the shutdown.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      Hello Devika! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and how it is completely different in your country. Even here in the U.S. each state has a quirky take on how the act should be applied. In any event, the goal is designed to help people.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      Thank you Pamela! My husband and I are retired, too. But, I have past clients who I still keep in contact with and they were calling me... asking what to do. I would explain it over and over to different people. It is quite confusing and my hope was to make it easy to understand. Thank you very much for your feedback. I truly do value your opinion.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      It does seem kind of weird, doesn't it Bill? I mean, both my husband and I are living on our Social Security income and we get by... just barely. We've established a lifestyle that exists on our regular income, so the extra money makes us feel like millionaires.

    • MarleneB profile imageAUTHOR

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 months ago from USA

      Hello Eric! Oh my goodness! That card means everything to the survival of many. I hope the problem is solved very quickly.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi Marlene this is interesting most helpful information indeed! I do not understand how this works however, you have informed me of another new title. Nothing of what you mentioned here is applied in Croatia. I appreciate this information take care.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      3 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a well-presented list of everything relted to COVID 19. These programs are helping out so many people, but my husband and I are retired. I'm sure some will financially benefit from your article.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Nice summary, Marlene, of our new reality. If they ever vote through the "guaranteed income" idea of $1000 per month, Bev and I will be sitting prettier than we were before the pandemic. Heck, we are now! I'm not sure how I feel about that weird state of affairs. :)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very good information. "Freelancers" seemed strange but right on the money.

      My wife tells me that our "grandma Tam" is having trouble with her card. Who said other people were having trouble with their card. My in house accountant is all over it.


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