The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which became effective on March 27, 2020,  will deliver aid to the millions of workers who lost their jobs or are unable to work due to Coronavirus/COVID-19.  This LR What You Need to Know Now update will focus on the CARES Act expansion of existing state unemployment insurance in both duration and dollar amount.  LR will continue to report on state and federal level developments as they happen.

The CARES Act creates a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Fund to give benefits to workers who are not eligible for unemployment benefits because they are independent contractors, have limited work history, or self-employed. Also, the Act provides benefits for workers who ran out of federal or state unemployment benefits.  This is the first time “gig” workers and other independent contractors are eligible for any kind of unemployment benefits.

To be eligible for this expanded unemployment, a worker must show that they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because the worker is:

  • diagnosed with COVID-19 or has symptoms and is seeking a diagnosis
  • providing care for a family or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • the primary care-giver for a child or someone else who is unable to attend school or a facility due to a COVID-19-related closure
  • unable to reach their place of employment because of a quarantine imposed because of COVID-19
  • in COVID-19-related quarantine on the advice of a health care provider
  • unable to start a job they were offered because of the COVID-19 public health emergency
  • the major support for their household because the former head of household died as a direct result of COVID-19
  • out of work since their place of employment closed due to COVID-19
  • had to quit as a direct result of COVID-19
  • or meets other criteria established by the Department of Labor

The New York State Department of Labor has informally advised that workers employed in “essential businesses” who are not working because they have a documented underlying medical condition or are age 60 or above, also should apply for unemployment.

A worker does not qualify if they are able to work remotely with pay or are receiving paid sick leave or another type of paid leave.

Qualifying workers can receive payment for up to 39 weeks, regardless of the maximum number of weeks allowed by their state unemployment law, between January 27, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The CARES Act removes any waiting period before benefits start being paid out. The amount of money the worker will receive is calculated using their state’s unemployment compensation law   plus, once their state agrees to it, an additional amount of $600 per week until July 31, 2020.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is developing and conditions are constantly changing, the CARES Act also leaves the door open for the length of assistance to be extended.