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Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Frequently Asked Questions

Here you'll find frequently asked questions regarding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits, eligibility, and much more.

Table of Contents

Overview

The following questions and answers explain the most important changes the CARES Act makes to UI and their impacts on Massachusetts workers and employers:

Eligibility

Does the CARES Act provide benefits to workers who have been ineligible for regular or extended benefits until now? 

Yes. The CARES Act provides a program separate from traditional UI. The new program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), extends eligibility to individuals who: 

  • are self-employed, including gig workers, freelancers, and independent contractors;  
  • are seeking part-time employment;  have an insufficient work history to qualify for benefits;  
  • have exhausted all rights to regular or extended benefits under state or federal law or to Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC);  
  • have been laid off from churches and religious institutions and are not eligible for benefits under state law;  
  • are otherwise not qualified for regular or extended benefits or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).

Can workers apply for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) now? 

Yes, please visit our Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) page to apply.

What must these workers establish to qualify for benefits? 

Individuals must provide “self-certification” that they are otherwise able and available to work, but are prevented from doing so by of one of the following circumstances relating to COVID-19: 

  • The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a diagnosis; or 
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed; or 
  • The individual is providing care to a household or family member who has been diagnosed; or 
  • A child or other person for whom the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility as a result of COVID-19; or 
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or 
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine; or 
  • The individual was scheduled to start work and does not have a job as a result of COVID-19; or 
  • The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19; or 
  • The individual has to quit their job because of COVID-19; or 
  • The individual’s place of employment is closed because of COVID-19; or
  • The individual works as an independent contractor and the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited his or her ability to continue performing his or her usual work activities, and has thereby forced the individual to stop performing those activities.

Under what circumstances will these workers not qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

Individuals able to telework with pay and individuals receiving paid sick or other leave will not qualify for PUA.  

I am self-employed but I also had another job in 2019. Where should I apply? 

If you earned more than $5,100 in calendar year 2019 from an employer (or employers) who took taxes out of your paycheck, you must first apply for regular unemployment.

Can I apply for both regular unemployment benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance at the same time?

No. Individuals cannot have pending applications in both programs at the same time.

I recently exhausted my unemployment benefits. What should I do?

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides up to 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits to individuals who have exhausted their previous unemployment benefits is now available through the UI online system. Eligible claimants should reopen their claim through UI Online.

In addition to my full-time job where I earned most of my income in 2019, I owned a business that has shut down due to a COVID-19 related reason. Am I considered self-employed for purposes of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits? 

No. Federal guidelines provide that an individual is considered “self-employed” for purposes of PUA only where their primary reliance for income is on the performance of services in the individual’s own business, or on the individual’s own farm.  Any individual that earned more than $5,100 in 2019 working for an employer who took taxes out of their paycheck is not eligible for PUA but may be eligible for regular unemployment benefits. 

Timing

What weeks will Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) cover? 

It will be effective for weeks of unemployment beginning on or after 1/27/20 and ending 12/31/20. 

If a worker was impacted by COVID-19 prior to the PUA program being available, how will the worker receive payment for prior weeks? 

The worker will supply information regarding when the period of COVID-19 related unemployment began. Any retroactive weeks will include any entitlement to the additional $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). Note: The $600 FPUC benefit expired July 25. The DUA is awaiting federal guidance on whether the program will be renewed.

What is the maximum number of weeks for which an individual qualifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) can receive benefits? 

An individual can receive benefits for a maximum of 39 weeks, including regular UI and extended benefits under any federal or state law, though additional extended benefit weeks could be added later. Also, there is no waiting week.

Denials and appeals

I was denied unemployment benefits, and I have appealed. Should I wait for my hearing, board decision, or decision from the Massachusetts courts? 

Claimants have the right to withdraw an appeal at any time prior to a decision being issued on the appeal, and claimants should decide what is best for them in the circumstances. For example, if you already have a hearing scheduled you may prefer to wait for the hearing and the decision. If no hearing is scheduled in your case yet and/or you feel that your appeal is unlikely to be successful, on the other hand, you might prefer to withdraw the appeal and then file a PUA application. Beyond that, DUA cannot advise claimants on this decision.

If you have a claim pending, and you have not yet received a decision regarding initial eligibility, you must wait to receive that decision.  

I applied for regular unemployment benefits, but I have not gotten a decision regarding whether I am eligible. Can I withdraw my unemployment claim, and apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?

No. You cannot withdraw an unemployment claim in order to file for PUA. You must wait until you have been denied unemployment benefits before you can apply for PUA. If your claim for regular unemployment is approved, you must exhaust all of those benefits, including extensions before you can apply for PUA.

Although I did not work in Massachusetts in 2019, the head of my household died as a result of COVID-19 and I believe I qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. However, when I attempted to apply for PUA during the week of April 20, 2020, I could not complete my application after checking the box specifying I did not work in Massachusetts in 2019.  What should I do?

You should re-apply for PUA benefits. As of April 27, 2020, the new system has been updated to allow those claimants in this situation to qualify for PUA benefits provided they are otherwise eligible.

Taxes and income

What if I earned much more in 2019 from self-employment than I did from my W-2 job? Can I choose to apply for PUA if I think my benefit amount will be higher? 

No. If you earned more than $5,100 in calendar year 2019 from an employer (or employers) who took taxes out of your paycheck, you must first apply for regular unemployment. 

I have not yet filed my 2019 tax return because the deadline was extended. What information can I use to calculate my income for 2019? 

Individuals may use a variety of documents to calculate their income, including W-2s, 1099s, pay stubs, bank receipts and billing notices. Individuals should retain all documents establishing income for verification purposes.

Password reset

I applied for PUA and have forgotten my password. How can I reset my password on my own?

  1. Go to the PUA homepage: https://ui-cares-act.mass.gov/PUA/
  2. Click on the "Forgot Password?'" link under the "Log in" button at the top right of the screen.
  3. Enter your email address in the required field and click "Submit".
  4. Follow the instructions that will be emailed to you to complete the password recovery process.
  5. If you didn't get an email, make sure to check your junk email box in case the email was diverted there.  

Contact

Phone

Call Center (877) 626-6800

Open 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Monday–Friday, 8 a.m–12 p.m. Saturday. Multilingual call agents are available.

Online

To access PUA application online: Log in as a claimant 
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