What You Should Know About The New Unemployment Programs

Two unemployment programs created by the CARES Act — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) — expired on Saturday. 

Fortunately, the programs were extended as part of the $900 billion stimulus package President Trump signed on Sunday, preventing millions from losing critical financial support. The relief bill will also provide a second round of stimulus checks, funding for vaccine development and distribution, and more.

Considering that many state benefits don’t even cover the cost of basic living expenses, the move to renew unemployment benefits is a welcome — and necessary — lifeline. However, many recipients wonder how the new deal will affect their eligibility, timing of the payments, and others. 

Money.com explains what you need to know about the extension.

Will Unemployment Benefits Stay The Same?

The new bill will provide an additional $300 per week in federal benefits to supplement state insurance. These payments are available on top of extended Benefits (EB), a federal program that provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits during periods of elevated unemployment.

The EB program is available in 24 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. EB recipients must exhaust their benefits before they can be eligible for PEUC relief. 

What About Freelancers?

Those who work a combination of W-2 and self-employed 1099 jobs will receive an additional $100 as well as the $300 supplemental payments as part of the PUA program.

According to Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality’s co-executive director Indiva Dutta-Gupta, a large portion of freelancers also have regular W-2 jobs or at least held one in the last 12 months. He noted these individuals could have attained larger unemployment payments through the PUA but were forced to receive regular unemployment insurance. 

For example, a freelancer in the marketing industry could have made a higher income doing gig work than from their part-time job as a waiter. However, because they were a W-2 employee, they would have been ineligible for PUA payments.

With the latest law, these workers will receive an extra $100 if they earn $5,000 or more from freelancing. Individuals earning income exclusively from 1099 work will be eligible for PUA and the $300 weekly bonus.

Will You Still Qualify For Unemployment Benefits?

Because President Trump did not immediately sign the stimulus bill over the weekend, the PUA and PEUC programs expired on December 26, leaving nearly 14 million people without assistance. 

Many are questioning if they will still qualify for the new benefits. Luckily, the answer is simple: If you don’t have a job or are laid off in 2021, you will receive these supplemental payments.

“People who have been on unemployment during this period will get all of the additional benefits,” Andrew Stettner, a Century Foundation senior fellow, told Money. “But it won’t be looking back, it will be for people who continue to be unemployed in 2021.”

However, individuals who found employment after a job loss between July 31 and December 27 will be ineligible for backdated benefits, even if they’re still facing financial hardship.

How Long Will The Unemployment Programs Last?

Under the CARES Act, the PEUC gave recipients who depleted regular state benefits an additional 13 weeks. The most recent bill provides 24 weeks. 

In addition, the CARES Act offered PUA payments for individuals ineligible for state unemployment insurance for as long as 39 weeks. Now, they can get assistance for as many as 50. 

The PUA, PEUC, and supplemental unemployment benefits will last until March 14. Those who haven’t used their benefits before that date will receive payments until the first week of April. 

When Should You Expect Your Stimulus Check?

When the pandemic first broke out in the US in early spring, tens of millions of people lost their jobs during a wave of mass unemployment. The overwhelming joblessness created a massive bottleneck for outmoded and poorly funded state unemployment processes. 

When Congress passed the CARES Act, many people were forced to wait weeks — months, in some cases — to receive extra unemployment payments. Now that a structure is already in place, the process should be smoother, but that doesn’t mean you should expect an immediate check.

Although the PUA and PEUC that offered coverage for the long-term unemployed will kick off once more on January 1, Stettner warned that there could be a delay for supplemental benefits as the federal government sends the money to state unemployment departments. “Three to six weeks is likely the range of time it will take to start getting the extra $300 to people,” he estimated.


  • Silcox, Kenadi, and Mallika Mitra. “New Unemployment Benefits: Who Qualifies and When Payments Start.” Money, 29 Dec. 2020, money.com/new-unemployment-benefits-pua/.


Ian Schindler