Understanding the CARES Act programs available to unemployed and furloughed workers
By: Naomi Frisch
The CARES Act went into effect on March 27, 2020, and includes many programs to help struggling workers. You may have heard acronyms such as PUA, FPUC, and PPP, and are wondering what they are and if they can help you. If you have been laid off, furloughed, or offered unpaid leave because your company is experiencing a loss of business during the pandemic, these programs can help.
Expanded Unemployment Benefits
If you earned at least $1600 in 2019 from working in Illinois and have now been laid off or furloughed because of COVID-19, you are most likely eligible for Illinois unemployment benefits. Once you have been approved, you are also eligible for the following benefits:
FEUC, or Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation, is available to workers who have exhausted their rights to regular benefits in Illinois. Normally, unemployed workers are eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits at a rate based on their past earnings. FEUC extends those benefits up to an additional 13 weeks.
FPUC, or Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, provides an extra federally-funded unemployment payment of $600 per week which is automatically added to Illinois unemployment benefit payments once you qualify. This program is only available through July 25, so if you have not yet applied for unemployment, now is the time. You can apply online at https://www2.illinois.gov/ides/pages/file-a-claim.aspx or by calling 1-800-244-5631.
PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, is available to those workers who are unemployed due to the pandemic but do not otherwise qualify for Illinois unemployment benefits. Some reasons why you might be eligible for PUA are: 1) you are self-employed or your employer does not pay into the Unemployment Insurance Fund; 2) you just started working shortly before the pandemic hit and did not earn enough wages in 2019 to otherwise qualify; 3) you are unable to work despite your employer's offer of work due to certain pandemic-related events. To qualify for PUA, you must first receive a determination that you are ineligible for regular unemployment. PUA benefits are available for up to 39 weeks in the year after you apply. Once you are receiving PUA, you will also receive FPUC until it expires in July.
Benefits available to Employers that can help Employees
The following benefits are available to employers with fewer than 500 employees.
Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, is the part of the CARES Act which provides low interest, forgivable loans to businesses to help cover the cost of employees' salaries. Employers who qualify and who use the money to pay salaries do not have to pay back these loans. See https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program for more information. Note that PPP loans may also be available to self-employed individuals as an alternative to PUA.
Tax Credits for Paid Sick Leave and Paid Family Leave
If you are working but are diagnosed with COVID-19, are told by a medical provider to self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19, have to care for a loved one with COVID-19, or have to stay home with a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19, you may be eligible for paid leave from your job. Under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, your employer can receive a tax credit to cover the cost of up to 80 hours of paid sick leave from your job. Further, if you are staying home with a child whose daycare/school is closed, your employer can receive a tax credit to pay you for up to an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave.
Unemployment Benefits and Employer Aid May Not Be Received at the Same Time
If your employer receives a PPP loan and calls you back to work, you cannot keep collecting unemployment. You also cannot receive paid leave and unemployment at the same time. However, many employers are trying to manipulate their PPP loans by paying you now for work they want you to do later or work that they excused you from doing before. These payments may affect your eligibility for unemployment.
If you have questions about how to apply for any of these programs or how your employer's actions are affecting your eligibility for unemployment, the attorneys at CTM Legal Group are here for you. Call our firm at (312)818-6700 to talk with one of our experienced attorneys today!
 Besides being monetarily eligible, you must remain “able and available” to work and be “actively seeking” work. These requirements have been relaxed slightly for workers who have become unemployed due to COVID-19.
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