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66. What Are the Sources of Law for COVID-19 Programs and Policies?

 

Individuals, families, and businesses have faced devastating financial impacts throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the UI program has faced unprecedented demand in the past two years. Several federal statutes and regulations expanding access to UI were passed in 2020 and 2021 in response to the unemployment crisis caused by COVID-19. Numerous state laws and regulations were also passed to support workers struggling financially because of COVID-19 impacts and to implement additional flexibilities temporarily authorized by federal law.

The following section presents an overview of the major COVID-related federal and state legislation and regulations passed and in effect throughout 2020 and 2021. While most of these provisions have been allowed to expire, these provisions will remain relevant to the ongoing adjudication of claims implicating time periods for which the provisions were in effect. Moreover, as COVID-19 continues to cause disruption and uncertainty, advocates should continue to search for updated federal and state regulations and guidance.
 

Sources of Federal Law

CARES Act

The President signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 into law on March 27, 2020, to provide emergency assistance for individuals, families, and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. UIPL No. 14-20, (4/2/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives
/attach/UIPL/UIPL_14-20.pdf. The Act mitigates the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing temporary benefits for workers who are not eligible for regular UI, as well as workers who have exhausted their regular UI benefits. 15 U.S.C. §§ 9021-9034 (2020); UIPL No. 16-20, (4/5/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_16-20.pdf.

The UI-related provisions of the CARES Act are found in Title II, Subtitle A. CARES Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 9021-9034 (2020). These provisions created the following programs, which have provided financial relief for workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program initially provided up to 39 weeks of benefits for individuals who were unemployed starting on or after January 27, 2020, and ending on or before December 31, 2020. PUA covers workers who are self-employed, seeking part-time employment, or would not qualify for regular UI or other pandemic relief programs. Additionally, PUA covers workers who have a limited work history or have exhausted their rights to other pandemic relief programs. The CARES Act provided that workers could establish eligibility by self-certification that they are able and available to work, but are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work because of a COVID-related reason listed in the statute. CARES Act, 15 U.S.C. § 9021 (2020); UIPL No. 16-20, (4/5/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/
    attach/UIPL/UIPL_16-20.pdf.
     
  • The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program initially provided up to 13 weeks of benefits for workers who were unemployed starting after the date the state entered into an agreement with the Department of Labor and ending on or before December 31, 2020. PEUC covers workers who have exhausted their rights to regular UI or have no rights to UI, so long as they are able to work, available for work, and actively seeking work. CARES Act, 15 U.S.C. § 9025 (2020). PEUC instructed states to be flexible when defining “actively seeking work” to accommodate individuals unable to seek work due to illness, quarantine, or other COVID-related restrictions. UIPL No. 17-20, (4/10/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_17-20.pdf.
     
  • The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program initially provided an additional $600 per week to individuals receiving regular UI benefits, as well as other COVID-19 relief benefits, such as PUA and PEUC. FPUC provides this additional benefit to workers who were unemployed starting after the date the state entered into an agreement with the Department of Labor and ending on or before July 31, 2020. CARES Act, 15 U.S.C. § 9023(b)(1) (2020). Additionally, FPUC includes a non-reduction rule, preventing states from changing regular UI calculations to decrease workers’ maximum benefit entitlement. UIPL No. 15-20, (4/4/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/
    directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_15-20.pdf.

The U.S Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration has published various Unemployment Insurance Program Letters (UIPLs) on its website to guide states as they implement the CARES Act. UIPL No. 14-20, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020, issued April 2, 2020, is especially useful, as it summarizes the background of the CARES Act and outlines the UI provisions authorized by the Act. Additionally, UIPL No. 14-20 reviews the coordination of these emergency UI programs, explains how these programs are funded, and emphasizes the need for emergency flexibility across COVID-19 relief programs. UIPL No. 14-20, (4/2/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_14-20.pdf.

The Department of Labor (DOL) has also published UIPLs detailing specific COVID-19 relief programs established by the CARES Act. Subsequent changes to these UIPLs can be found under “Related Change Documents.” See Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 16-20. United States Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration (Jan. 31, 2022, 2:00 PM), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=4628; Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 15-20. United States Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration (Jan. 31, 2022, 2:00 PM), https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=9297.

Continued Assistance Act

The President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 into law on December 27, 2020. Title II, Subtitle A of this Act established the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020. 15 U.S.C §§ 9001-9021. The Continued Assistance Act (CAA) extended and modified the following COVID-19 relief programs established by the CARES Act. UIPL No. 9-21, (12/30/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_9-21.pdf.

  • The CAA extended the PUA program to include weeks of unemployment which ended on or before March 14, 2021. The CAA also increased the maximum number of weeks of PUA benefits from 39 weeks to 50 weeks. CAA § 201(a); UIPL No. 9-21, (12/30/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/
    directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_9-21.pdf
    . Additionally, the Act gave states the authority to waive PUA overpayments when the claimant was not at fault for the payment and requiring repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience. CAA § 201(d); UIPL No. 9-21, (12/30/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_9-21.pdf.
     
  • The CAA also established a new employment substantiation requirement for PUA claimants. Under this provision, all individuals who received PUA payments after December 27, 2020 are required to provide documentation that substantiates employment or self-employment. Claimants may also submit documentation of the planned beginning of employment or self-employment. The deadline for uploading employment substantiation documentation depends on when the claimant initially filed for PUA (detailed in “Employment Substantiation,” Question 67, below. The employment substantiation requirement applies only to PUA benefits paid for weeks ending after the enactment of the CAA. CAA § 241; UIPL No. 9-21, (12/30/20), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/
    attach/UIPL/UIPL_9-21.pdf.

 

  • The CAA extended the PEUC program to include weeks of unemployment which ended on or before March 14, 2021. CAA § 203. Additionally, the CAA increased the maximum amount of PEUC benefits from 13 times the individual’s average weekly benefit amount (WBA) to 24 times the individual’s average WBA. CAA § 206(b). The Act also created a new provision requiring individuals receiving External Benefits (EB) to exhaust EB before claiming additional PEUC payments now available under the CAA. CAA § 206(a). See UIPL No. 9-21, (12/30/20), Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers of 2020 (Continued Assistance Act) - Summary of Key Unemployment Insurance (UI) Provisions, available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_9-21.pdf.
    • The CAA also modified the FPUC program, which originally expired on July 31, 2020. FPUC was reauthorized, providing $300 per week for weeks of unemployment starting after December 26, 2020, and ending on or before March 14, 2021. CAA § 203. Additionally, the CAA authorized the Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) program, which provides eligible claimants with an additional $100 each week in addition to FPUC payments. To qualify for MEUC, claimants must have received at least $5,000 of self-employment income in the previous year, filed for a UI benefit other than PUA, and submitted employment substantiation documentation. CAA § 261. See UIPL No. 9-21, (12/30/20), Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers of 2020 (Continued Assistance Act) - Summary of Key Unemployment Insurance (UI) Provisions, available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/
      UIPL_9-21.pdf
      .

The federal DOL has published multiple Continued Assistance Act UIPLs to guide states as they implement the extensions and modifications of the CARES Act. These UIPLs are available on the Department’s website. See UIPL No. 9-21, (12/30/20), Continued Assistance Act of 2020 – Summary of Key UI Provisions, available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_9-21.pdf;  UIPL No. 24-20, Change 1, (12/31/20), Continued Assistance Act of 2020 – Provisions Affecting the Federal-State Extended Benefits Program, available at https://wdr.
doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_24-20_Change_1.pdf
.

American Rescue Plan Act

The President signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) into law on March 11, 2021. This Act modifies many UI-related provisions in the CARES Act, as amended by the CAA. Additionally, ARPA extended the PUA, PEUC, and FPUC programs beyond their prior expiration date of March 14, 2021, to September 6, 2021. UIPL No. 14-21, (3/15/21), available at https://wdr.doleta.
gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_14-21.pdf
. ARPA also modified COVID-19 relief programs in the following ways:

  • ARPA extended the PUA program, changing the last payable week to the week ending September 4, 2021. (The U.S Department of Labor published various UIPLs on ARPA, stating the Act extended PUA through September 6, 2021. However, in states such as Massachusetts, where unemployment weeks end on Saturdays, the last payable week of PUA was the week ending September 4, 2021. See UIPL No. 16-20, Change 6, (9/3/21), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program: Updated Operating Instructions and Reporting Changes, available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_16-20_Change-6.pdf.) ARPA also increased the maximum number of weeks of PUA benefits from 50 weeks to 79 weeks. However, these additional 29 weeks may only be paid for unemployment weeks ending after March 14, 2021. ARPA § 9011(a)-(b); UIPL No. 14-21, (3/15/21), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/
    directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_14-21.pdf
    ; UIPL No. 16-20, Change 6, (9/3/21), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_16-20_Change-6.pdf.

 

Similar to the CARES Act and CAA, the federal DOL  published useful ARPA UIPLs outlining the statute’s implications for states. See UIPL No. 14-21, (3/15/21), ARPA – Key UI Provisions, available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/
directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_14-21.pdf
; UIPL No. 24-20, (4/7/21), ARPA – Provisions Affecting the Federal State EB Program, available at https://wdr.
doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_24-20_Change_2%20acc.pdf.

The DOL also published UIPLs regarding ARPA’s modifications to specific COVID-19 relief programs. See UIPL No. 17-20, (3/26/21), ARPA – PEUC Program: Extension, Elimination of Transition Rule, Increase in Total Benefits, and Extension of Coordination Rule, available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/
attach/UIPL/UIPL_17-20_Change_3_acc.pdf
; UIPL No. 15-20, (3/26/21), ARPA – Extensions to the FPUC Program and MEUC Program, available at https://wdr.
doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_15-20_Change_4_acc.pdf
.

PEUC “Fix”

Note: Once a worker exhausted their regular UI benefits, they could receive additional weeks PEUC as provided by the CARES Act, CAA, and ARPA. Workers were required to reapply for regular UI when their benefit year expired to continue receiving PEUC. If a worker was receiving PEUC when their benefit year expired and their weekly benefit amount (WBA) decreased by $25 or more, the worker would continue to receive PEUC at the higher WBA. See UIPL No. 17-20, Change 2, (12/31/2020), available at https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives
/attach/UIPL/UIPL_17-20_Change_2.pdf
.

Sources of State Law

Lost Wages Supplemental Payment Assistance Program

To ease the financial burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use the Disaster Relief Fund, in accordance with the Stafford Act. 42 U.S.C. § 5174(e)(2). Through the Disaster Relief Fund, FEMA provided grants to the states, making up for wages lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To qualify for this Lost Wages Supplemental Payment Assistance program (LWA), individuals had to be eligible for at least $100 per week in UI payments from a list of COVID-19 relief programs, including PUA, PEUC, and EB. Lost Wages Supplemental Payment Assistance Guidelines. FEMA (Jan. 22, 2022, 1:00 PM), https://www.fema.
gov/disaster/coronavirus/governments/supplemental-payments-lost-wages-guidelines
. Massachusetts applied for a LWA grant in August of 2020. FEMA approved the application, granting an additional $300 weekly payment to eligible Massachusetts claimants for the weeks of August 1, 8, and 15, 2020. Massachusetts Approved for Lost Wages Assistance Grant. Mass.gov (Jan. 22, 2022, 1:00 PM), https://www.mass.gov/news/massachusetts-approved-for-lost-wages-assistance-grant

While the LWA grant assisted Massachusetts in addressing the financial repercussions of COVID-19, the program was restrictive, excluding thousands of Massachusetts UI claimants. Massachusetts responded to this shortcoming by enacting An Act Relative to Additional Unemployment Benefits for the Neediest Recipients Currently Excluded from the Lost Wages Assistance, 2020 Mass. Acts Chapter 197 (Oct. 26, 2020). This Act ensured that claimants with less than $100 in weekly benefits received the additional $1,800 that the LWA program provided. This law enhanced UI payments for approximately 17,000 people in Massachusetts. Legislation to Extend Unemployment Benefits to 17,000 Low-Income Recipients Signed into Law, Senate President Karen E. Spilka (Jan. 22, 2022, 1:00 PM), https://karenspilka.com/updates/2020/10/27/legislation-to-extend-unemployment-benefits-to-17000-low-income-recipients-signed-into-law.

Massachusetts Emergency Paid Sick Leave

Governor Baker signed another COVID-19 bill into law on May 28, 2021, requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to employees with COVID-related absences, such as illness, quarantine, and vaccinations. An Act Providing for Massachusetts COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave, 2021 Mass. Acts Chapter 16 (May 28, 2021). On September 29, 2021, this Act was amended, extending the program until April 1, 2022, and expanding the reasons employees may use this paid sick leave to include caring for a family member with a COVID-19 diagnosis, symptoms, or immunization. An Act Extending COVID-19 Massachusetts Emergency Paid Sick Leave, 2021 Mass. Acts Chapter 55 (Dept. 29, 2021). This Act also enabled Massachusetts employers to apply for reimbursement from the state. COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program, Mass.gov (Jan. 22, 2022, 1:00 PM), https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-temporary-emergency-paid-sick-leave-program

State UI Policy & Performance Memoranda

Throughout the pandemic, DUA has published various UI policy and performance interoffice memoranda (UIPPs) to implement and clarify temporary flexibilities provided in UI and COVID-19 relief programs. These memoranda are available online as part of DUA Public Records. Unemployment Insurance Policy & Performance Memos, Mass.gov (Jan. 22, 2022, 1:00 PM), https://www.mass.gov/lists/unemployment-insurance-policy-performance-memos. (See Question 68.)

2020 UIPPs

  • On April 7, 2020, DUA published UIPP # 2020.07 in response to new emergency COVID-19 regulations. The memorandum outlined standby status which deemed individuals temporarily unemployed due to lack of work because of COVID-19 eligible for UI. Additionally, this memorandum discussed the new suitable work definition, which required DUA to consider whether a claimant has a condition preventing them from performing functions of the job without health or safety risks.  Lastly, UIPP # 2020.07 explains that good cause should be liberally granted if COVID-19 prevented the claimant from meeting deadlines. See UIPP # 2020.07, Emergency Regulations in Effect Due to Hardship Caused by COVID-19 (4/7/20).

 

  •  The updated emergency regulations memorandum, published on August 6, 2020, explained that standby status included individuals who are temporarily unemployed due COVID-19 and have an expected return to work date. UIPP # 2020.10 also outlined requirements for self-employed claimants. See UIPP # 2020.10, New Emergency Regulations in Effect Due to Hardship Caused by COVID-19 (8/6/20).
     
  • DUA also released notable UIPPs in the Fall of 2020, discussing the new maximum benefit rate, expanding the definitions of suitable work and good cause, and recognizing childcare and school closures. See UIPP # 2020.11, New Maximum UI Weekly Benefit Amount (10/2/20); UIPP # 2020.12, Availability and Suitable Work Issues – Caregiver Responsibilities During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (10/8/20).
     
  • On November 2, 2020, DUA published an update on the work search requirement for standby claimants. Claimants satisfied this requirement by taking reasonable measures to maintain contact with the employer and being available for all hours of suitable work offered by the employer. See UIPP # 2020.13, Application of the Emergency Regulations in Relation to Stand-By Status, (11/2/20). UIPP # 2020.14 also outlined the suitable work requirement, expanding the definition of suitable work and allowing claimants to limit their availability to part-time employment for COVID-related reasons. See UIPP # 2020.14, Suitable Work, Total or Partial Unemployment, and COVID-19 (11/25/20). Later that year, Massachusetts waived the work search requirement and established a new minimum base period wage. See UIPP # 2020.15, Waiving of Work Search Requirements (11/25/20); UIPP # 2020.16, New Minimum Base Period Wage Requirement for Claims (12/18/20).

2021 UIPPs

  • On January 22, 2021, DUA released UIPP # 2021.02 to clarify availability and suitable work issues and define suitable work, total unemployment, and partial unemployment. This memorandum also explained that the work search requirement waiver applied retroactively to March 8, 2020. See UIPP # 2021.02 Retroactive Application of COVID-19 Flexibilities (1/22/2021). The following UIPP discussed noteworthy operational changes and time periods when DUA automatically granted predates to claimants who could not file timely because of COVID-19. See UIPP # 2021.3, Flexibilities Implemented by MA DUA as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic for the Period March 8 – December 27, 2020 (1/29/21).
     
  • Later that year, DUA published UIPPs regarding the reinstatement of the work search requirement and the change in maximum duration of benefits to 30 weeks. See UIPP # 2021.04, Work Search Requirements (5/20/21); UIPP # 2021.05, Maximum Duration of Benefit Weeks for Initial Unemployment Claims (9/7/21). Additionally, the childcare policy under UIPP # 2020.12 and the total and partial unemployment policy under UIPP # 2020.14 were rescinded effective September 5, 2021, but applied retroactively to all weeks between March 8, 2020, and September 4, 2021. See UIPP # 2021.06, The Expiration of Flexibilities for Availability and Suitable Work Issues – Caregiver Responsibilities during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (9/9/21); UIPP # 2020.07, The Expiration of Flexibilities Regarding Suitable Work and Total or Partial Unemployment during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (9/9/21); UIPP # 2021.08, Update of Retroactive Application of COVID-19 Flexibilities (9/9/21).
     
  • DUA also published UIPPs discussing the recalculation of the maximum benefit amount and minimum base period wage. See UIPP # 2021.09, New Maximum UI Weekly Benefit Amount (10/1/21); UIPP # 2021.11, New Minimum Base Period Wage Requirement for Claims (11/1/21). DUA then released UIPPs to guide DUA staff on adjudicating issues in light of COVID-19 vaccine requirements. See UIPP # 2021.10, Adjudication of Separation Issues Related to Vaccination Requirement (10/14/21). Lastly, DUA published UIPP # 2021.12, providing DUA adjudicators and staff with clearer instructions on when and for what reasons a claim can be redetermined. See UIPP # 2021.12, Redeterminations Under Section 71 (12/15/21).