Federal Funding May Face Delayed Disbursal
On Sunday, Dec. 27, President Donald Trump signed into law a federal COVID-19 relief package that extends and provides additional federal unemployment benefits. They include the following:
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
- Provides up to 11 weeks of an additional $300 weekly benefit to eligible claimants.
- A claimant must be eligible for regular UI, PUA, EB20, or PEUC to receive FPUC.
- Once implemented, FPUC is available between Dec. 27, 2020, and the week ending March 13, 2021.
Regulatory steps must be taken before funds can be distributed, which may result in a delay of the plus-up payments to physical unemployment checks, though the Hawai‘i Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) said those eligible will eventually receive all back benefits.
DLIR is currently reviewing HR133, which includes extensions of CARES Act unemployment insurance and assistance benefits, according to a press release
As was the case with previous federal unemployment programs, the DLIR must receive guidance from the US Department of Labor before it can fully implement the changes and begin issuing payments. The DLIR said Monday that it is unlikely all of the guidance will be issued before January 2021, stating further that the state cannot pay benefits until it receives rules for these modified programs.
The department added that it continues to work to build additional programs within its unemployment computer system to process the revised federal benefits. Any benefits delayed will be paid retroactively, if necessary, and claimants will be made whole, the DLIR assured.
Hawai‘i residents on unemployment should budget for one week of absent plus-up funding that won’t be reimbursed, as the president failed to sign the relief bill by a Saturday, Dec. 26 deadline that would have avoided a lapse in benefits impacting 14 million Americans.
The DLIR will make announcements via its website, news releases, in the unemployment insurance portal, and at https://twitter.com/HI_DLIR as it implements provisions of the COVID-19 relief bill.
Other relevant extensions of the CARES Act provisions include:
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
- Increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim through the PEUC program from 13 to 24.
- Once implemented, PEUC is available between Dec. 27, 2020 and the week ending March 13, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 13 to continue through April 10, 2021, as long as the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
- Increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim from 39 to 50.
- Once implemented, PUA is available between Dec. 27, 2020 and the week ending March 13, 2021 and allows individuals receiving benefits as of March 13 to continue through April 10, 2021, as long as the individual has not reached the maximum number of weeks.
- Limits payment of retroactive PUA benefits for new PUA claimants to weeks of unemployment after Dec. 1, 2020.
- Provides states authority to waive overpayments made without fault on the part of the individual or when such repayment would violate equity and good conscience.
- Claimants will be required to provide income verification for eligibility to qualify for PUA. Existing and new claimants will have 90 days from Dec. 27 to submit documentation, but beginning on Jan. 31 new, initial claims will have 21 days to submit the documentation.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, a provision in the CARES Act that amended the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide federal support to cover 50% of the costs of unemployment benefits for employees of state and local governments and non-profit organizations.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, the CARES Act provision that reimbursed states for the cost of waiving the “waiting week” for regular unemployment compensation. Sets the reimbursement percentage for weeks ending after Dec. 26, 2020 at 50% instead of 100% federal funding.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, the CARES Act provision that gave state unemployment offices temporary, emergency authority to use “non-merit” staff.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, the provision in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that provided temporary full federal financing of Extended Benefits (EB) for high-unemployment states. States are normally required to pay 50% of the cost of EB, which is a program in permanent law.
- Extends through March 14, 2021, the waiver of interest on federal loans states have taken in order to pay state unemployment benefits.
Important note: None of the benefits described above, nor unemployment benefits of any kind, are available to employees who are terminated for cause, quit their jobs without good cause, refuse to return to work, or refuse to receive full-time pay. Attempts to collect benefit payments in these situations could be viewed as fraudulent. Investigation of job separation is part of the eligibility determination process.
For more information about unemployment insurance and other labor issues, visit the FAQs at https://labor.hawaii.gov/covid-19-labor-faqs/.