I have been getting lots of questions and comments around the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program and delays many unemployed Americans are experiencing getting their benefit payments, especially the latest extensions that are now in place. Here is some more background and some possible reasons for the delayed payments, including those impacted by benefit year end and new claim issues. Please review the comments forum at the end of this article for more information or leave one to share your story.
2021 PUA Extensions
The PUA program was originally funded under the CARES Act for 39 weeks, and was due to expire on December 26th 2020. As part of the CAA COVID Relief Bill the PUA program received an extra 11 weeks of federal funding followed by the ARPA (Biden Stimulus) bill which extended the PUA program until September 6th, 2021 or 25 more weeks. This now means that the PUA program would provide a total of at least 75 weeks of coverage for eligible claimants. This does not include weeks in some states on top of this as part of state high unemployment extended benefit programs. You can see more around the extension in this PUA overview article.
The additional funding extensions however only covers retroactive payments form the start of the extension period. This would be the week ending January 2nd, 2021 under the CAA extension and March 20th, 2021 under the ARPA extension. So those who missed weeks or exhausted their balances prior to the extensions and claimed them under a subsequent extension period would not get retroactive payments for weeks prior to the start of the extension period.
For those with remaining weeks, they will continue to be have these going forward until they hit the new maximum (plus state extended benefits).
Slow Rollouts of PUA extensions in 2021
The rollout of the various extensions for the PUA program have continued to be painfully slow in many states. Especially for those who had exhausted their benefits. I discussed this PUA video and as of mid-February only about 60% of states are paying PUA benefits to new and exhausted claimants (New Jersey and Wisconsin are among the most delayed). There is not much do to and despite the frustration and having to live on the edge of poverty, you will just have to wait for your state to update their UI systems so you can file claims for getting your current and retroactive payments.
PUA Payments Will STOP if You Are or Were Eligible for PEUC
One reason why some unemployment claimants are seeing their payments stop is because Claimants currently receiving PUA benefits who previously exhausted PEUC benefits may only collect PUA if they have exhausted any entitlement to PEUC. Because the Continued Assistance Act also increased the maximum amount of benefits available under the PEUC program, claimants actively filing for PUA with a previous PEUC claim are no longer eligible to receive PUA.
So if your PUA claim stopped suddenly or has gone to zero balance, this is why! You need to file a PEUC claim to get the extensions if your state UI agency hasn’t already notified you to do so.
Benefit Year End Delays to PUA
With many claimants having received benefits for over 12 months, they would have likely passed their benefit year end date (BYE). The way BYE is handed in many state varies and in some PUA claimants do not have to worry about filing a new claim after the BYE date. However in some claimants are being required to file a new claim and as a result are seeing a lapse in benefits. Further if they qualify for regular unemployment (e.g. went back to work, but then lost their job again) then there claim has to be adjusted. This manual step could take several weeks and is a reason several PUA claimants are seeing delays in getting paid.
When will I get my PUA unemployment benefit and any back dated payments (including the $300 weekly FPUC)?
Given the unprecedented spike in unemployment it is/was taking several weeks in most states to process PUA UI claims. In some states like California and Florida it is taking up to 6 weeks to process PUA unemployment claims due to the massive spike in applications. This does not include claims where additional verification or issues are found, which can add several more weeks. However once the claim is approved, claimants should get their regular payment within a week and any retroactive/lump sum payments 5 to 7 days after that (assuming they are eligible). This includes back dated PUA and the weekly FPUC payment.
PUA claimants who correctly file their weekly certification will get payment within three business days in line with their state’s UI payment schedule – weekly or bi-weekly. In many states backdated PUA and other enhanced UI benefit payments will be automatically paid shortly after the first PUA payment (assuming claimant is eligible), but in several states (e.g PA) individuals will also be asked to file separately for backdated claims for previous eligible weeks. It may take two to three weeks to receive these back dated payments.
Why am I not seeing my unemployment paid on my debit card?
Most states allow eligible claimants to receive unemployment benefit payments either by debit card or direct deposit. Paper checks are an option, but not recommended due to the long payment processing times. Direct deposit is the fastest payment option, but lots of people who may not have ready access to an active bank account or for other financial reasons prefer to receive their unemployment benefits via a state UI agency provided debit card.
A debit card is administered by a financial institution on behalf of the state unemployment agency, and each state has its own vendor, so generally UI payments on debit cards take one to two days longer to process than direct deposit UI payments. The first UI payment on your debit card can take even longer since it has to be mailed out to you. Other than payment processing delays, other reasons people don’t see their UI payments as expected are due to
- Your debit card has expired (most have a three year validity term), which means you will need to request a replacement card from your state UI agency. This may require a small payment. Also note if your continuing claim was denied you may not be able to request a new debit card.
- Fraudulent activity is suspected on your UI account or debit card. You will have to request a new card in this event that could delay your weekly or bi-weekly unemployment payment.
- Weekly certifications MUST be filed every week to continue receiving payments whether via direct deposit or on a state debit card. So if you forgot to certify or had issues with your certification for a given week, your UI payment could be delayed.