The CARES Act Expands Unemployment Insurance Benefits: Do They Actually Care?

rasha-zeyadehThe outbreak of COVID-19 has caused unprecedented changes to the lives of individuals across Texas and across the globe. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), expands unemployment benefit assistance to workers who are eligible under state and federal law before COVID-19 as well as extending benefits to workers who were not eligible for unemployment benefits assistance prior to COVID-19, including self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and gig workers.

There are three eligibility requirements to collect unemployment benefits in Texas: (1) your past earnings must meet a certain minimum threshold; (2) you must be unemployed through no fault of your own (i.e. laid off, reduction in force, terminated for a reason unrelated to misconduct, or you had a good reason to quit.); and (3) you are eligible to work. If you meet the eligibility requirements, under state law, you will received benefits for up to a maximum of 26 weeks.

The CARES Act, however, provides three enhancements to Texas’ existing unemployment insurance benefits. First, workers who were eligible for unemployment benefits prior to COVID-19 are now eligible to receive state-level benefits for a maximum of 39 weeks versus 26 weeks. Second, workers who are ineligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits, such as part-time workers, independent contractors, gig workers, and self-employed individuals can now receive unemployment benefits for up to 39 weeks through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (”PUA”) equal to $600 per week through July 31, 2020. Third, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (“FPUC”) provides an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits to individuals who qualify for regular state-level benefits, PEUC, or PUA. These benefits are available until July 31, 2020. You do not have to submit an additional application to receive FPUC. It is automatically disbursed to you.

PEUC, PUA, and FPUC are all 100 percent federally funded, which means they are not chargeable to Texas employers’ unemployment insurance tax accounts. However, unemployment benefits, including regular state unemployment benefits, PEUC, PUA, and FPUC are taxable income to the individual receiving them. The Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”) provides you the option to authorize the TWC to have federal income tax withheld from your unemployment benefits claim.

You can apply for unemployment benefits online at ui.texasworkforce.org any time. Applying online is the most efficient way to submit an application for unemployment benefits. The online portal is available 24/7. However, the online portal is experiencing a high volume of visitors. The TWC has advised that the best time to apply for unemployment benefits online is between 10:00pm and 8:00am. If you do not have internet access, you may apply for benefits by calling 1-800-939-6631 Monday – Friday from 8:00am to 6:00pm CST and Saturday from 8:00am to 5:00pm CST. 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. The added stress of navigating the legal system can be overwhelming. 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.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands!

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