Congress and President Biden have now passed into law the $2 trillion stimulus package, also known as the American Rescue Plan act (ARPA). It includes further unemployment program extensions until September 6th, 2021 for the PUA, PEUC and FPUC programs originally funded under the CARES act in 2020 and then extended via the CAA COVID Relief Bill.
However as the economy improves and the employment situation improves many employers are fully reopening now asking employees to come back onsite to work. But many are asking if they can remain on unemployment, especially for those where their regular and supplementary unemployment benefits are higher than their regular wages. The DOL has provided pretty clear guidelines on this question.
No. As a general matter, individuals receiving regular unemployment compensation must act upon any referral to suitable employment and must accept any offer of suitable employment. Barring unusual circumstances, a request that a furloughed employee return to his or her job very likely constitutes an offer of suitable employment that the employee must accept. While eligibility for PUA does not turn on whether an individual is actively seeking work, it does require that the individual be unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to certain circumstances that are a direct result of COVID-19 or the COVID-19 public health emergency.
If an employee who had been furloughed because his or her employer has closed the place of employment would potentially be eligible for PUA while the employer remained closed, assuming the closure was a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and other qualifying conditions are satisfied. However, as soon as the business reopens and the employee is recalled for work, as in the example above, eligibility for PUA would cease unless the individual could identify some other qualifying circumstance outlined in the CARES Act.
Work Search Requirements
Most states are also now reinstating work search requirements (weekly or bi-weekly, depending on state) which means states will be enforcing strict work search compliance measures as mandated by federal law (which temporarily discontinued during the COVID-19 pandemic). COVID related reasons can still be used for bypassing a return to work requirement, but work search requirements will be harder to avoid.
Further, failure to show evidence of conducting a work search (through seeking and applying for employment) or refusing to accept suitable work will affect your eligibility and may result in a denial of unemployment benefits. Many state UI agencies will also verify work search activities so keep detailed records and following reporting processes provided by your state unemployment agency.
[Previous update] With President Biden and Congressional Democrats still working overtime to pass their $1.9 Trillion dollar stimulus package, which includes additional stimulus check payments and a further 24-week extension to federal enhanced unemployment benefits – PUA, PEUC and FPUC programs – many are worried that the final bill’s passage and implementation could go past March 14th, 2021. This is the date when the current funding for enhanced unemployment benefits, passed under the $900 billion CAA COVID Relief Bill, would expire.
Claimants with remaining balances or weeks left to claim will have until April 10th to use up any remaining weeks, but for any new claims or those who have exhausted benefits they will only have state funded unemployment benefits to rely on from March 14th, which many current PUA recipients would not even qualify for. You can see the summary table below for how a potential delay (past March 14th) in passing additional unemployment extensions could affect different claimant groups. I have also discussed this in this recent YouTube Video.
The above table should only be considered as a general guideline given program implementations vary by state and several states have additional unemployment programs or extended benefits (where unemployment levels are above prescribed levels) that are available to local residents. But as with the prior extension to March 14th, 2021 under the CAA program, those who had exhausted their benefits will likely see the largest impact if the stimulus bill that includes the 24-week extension is delayed.
Further because the Department of Labor (DOL) has to codify the final bill’s legislative text into guidelines that states UI agencies use to implement, any delays with getting the Biden stimulus bill could mean a repeat of the extended delays many claimants faced (which some are still experiencing) with the CAA extension earlier this year. I hope that the impact is less this time, but I fear history may repeat itself.