The American Rescue Plan is Signed: Are you Feeling Rescued?

On March 11, 2021, President Biden Signed the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) into law. The ARPA extends the unemployment benefits that were available under the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) and the December 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, (both of which were set to expire after March 14, 2021) through September 6, 2021. 

To reap the benefits of the ARPA, you must meet your state’s eligibility requirements. In the state of Texas, if COVID-19 is the only reason you cannot work, you are considered able to work according to the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”). Hence, in order to remain eligible for benefits, you must be able and available to work and search for work as instructed by the TWC. Unless you are exempt, the number of work search activities you must complete and report each week is determined by your county of residence. 

However, according to the TWC, each benefits case is evaluated on an individual basis. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TWC has compiled a list of reasons benefits would be granted even if you refuse suitable work. Among those reasons are if you are 65 years or older, and/or have a medical condition, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or a weakened immune system, or at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19, and/or if someone in your household is at high risk for contracting COVID-19. 

With that being said, if you qualify for unemployment benefits and have exhausted all benefits, the ARPA extends or strengthens the following programs:

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (“FPUC”): the ARPA extends the FPUC program at $300 per week through the week ending on or before September 6, 2021. 
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment compensation (“PEUC”): the ARPA extends PEUC by providing for up to 53 weeks of additional unemployment benefits to eligible individuals who have exhausted benefits under state law. Under this extension, eligible individuals in many states can now receive up to 79 weeks of benefits through the week ending on or before September 6, 2021.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”): the ARPA extends PUA benefits by providing up to 79 weeks of benefits to individuals who are self-employed or unemployed and deemed ineligible for state unemployment benefits. Under this extension, eligible individuals now receive an additional 29 weeks of benefits, which may only be paid in weeks of unemployment ending after March 14, 2021. 
  • Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (“MEUC”): the ARPA extends the MEUC program, which provides $100 per week for individuals who are both W-2 employee and self-employed through the week ending on or before September 6, 2021. 

You can apply for unemployment benefits online at any time. Applying online is the most efficient way to submit an application for unemployment benefits. The online portal is available 24/7. If you do not have internet access, you may apply for benefits by calling 1-800-939-6631. The TWC is experiencing high call volumes and is unable to answer many calls. You will likely have to call multiple times to connect with an unemployment benefits officer.

If your unemployment claim is denied, you may appeal the decision by requesting a hearing, in writing within 14 days after the date the Determination Notice was mailed to you. After receiving your appeal request, the TWC will schedule a hearing and mail you a packet of information to help you prepare for the hearing. The hearing will take place via phone. Following the hearing, the hearing officer will decide on your case and mail the decision to you.

During these unique times, I understand the importance of prioritizing your health and the health of your loved ones. If you have any questions regarding your eligibility for unemployment benefits, please contact me or a Dallas Employment Lawyer for a consultation. If you have applied for unemployment benefits and would like to appeal the TWC’s decision regarding your eligibility for benefits, please contact us! I would be happy to represent you in your appeal. Please remember that time is of the essence. You must file your appeal within 14 days after the date the Determination Notice was mailed to you.

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