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Here’s How the CARES Act and New Paid Leave Options Can Help Your Family if You’re Struggling With Lost Income Due to Coronavirus

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Families who’ve taken financial hits due to the coronavirus pandemic should check out how the recently-passed CARES Act might help, even if they’ve never received unemployment benefits before.

Parents who have lost wages because their kids are out of school, people too sick to work or those caring for others with COVID-19, gig workers and self-employed people—even workers who had to quit their jobs as a result of coronavirus—may all be eligible for additional benefits.

Read on to learn about how the CARES Act—as well as some new opportunities for paid family leave—aim to give families some short-term relief. Note: It might be helpful to determine whether or not you qualify for state unemployment benefits first, if you’re not sure, so you can decide which of the below options best applies to your situation. You can determine your eligibility here.

Families who qualify for or are already on state unemployment insurance 

For families who are already on state unemployment insurance (or UI—more commonly known simply as “unemployment benefits”), or for those who are newly applying for benefits, the CARES Act provides $600 per week in additional benefits through the week ending July 26, 2020.

What is it?

Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (or PUC for short) means that families who qualify for unemployment insurance will receive their usual state benefits plus an additional $600 per week through the week of July 26, 2020.

For example, a worker who was making $1,100 a week in New York City currently can get a maximum state unemployment benefit of only $435 per week. With the new program, they would get an additional $600 of federal pandemic unemployment compensation, for a total of $1,035—nearly 100 percent wage replacement.

The Century Foundation

What about part-time workers?

Some states allow people who only work part-time to collect unemployment insurance. If you are a part-time worker who has lost a job, check to see if your state allows for part-time UI.

Other states allow for “partial UI.” This means that if you lose some of your hours and wages, you could apply for a share of your UI benefits.  

If you are eligible under any of these types of unemployment benefits, you’ll also receive the additional $600 on top of weekly unemployment payments through the week ending July 26, 2020. 

If your state does not allow for either, you may still be eligible for a new federal program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)—more on that below.

How about workers who rely on tips?

States pay UI based on reported wages, and employers of tipped workers are supposed to report all wages, including tips. But, employers often under-report to lower their taxes, and workers sometimes under-report their earnings, too, for the same reason.  

As a result, tipped workers may have a lower state UI payment; the CARES Act doesn’t fix the problem of underreported income. However, the $600 per week payments will help fill some gaps during this period.

How long does unemployment insurance last?

People will be eligible for the additional $600 weekly payments through the week ending July 26, 2020.

Most states provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Now, the CARES Act provides an additional 13 weeks. In all but 8 states, this means that people should be eligible for up to 39 weeks of benefits through the end of 2020.

If unemployment gets high enough in your state, your state may also qualify for the Extended Benefits program, which would give you from 13 to 20 more weeks of benefits. States will notify potentially eligible unemployed workers when they might be entitled to additional weeks of coverage.

How do you know if you qualify for state unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits are determined at the state level, but the benefits are generally available to people who have worked fairly regularly over the past 18 months, and are now unemployed through no fault of their own. 

How do I get started?

Find your state of employment here, and learn how to start applying for benefits immediately. 

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Families who don’t qualify for regular state unemployment insurance

People who don’t qualify for regular state unemployment insurance can now get relief from the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (or PUA for short). 

This program will be especially helpful, for example, to parents who don’t have an extensive work history or have been self-employed, including working as:

Who else is eligible?

PUA provides support to many other categories of people who can’t work as a result of the pandemic. According to the National Employment Law Project, this includes: 

  • Those needing to quarantine due to sickness or caring for a family member diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Those who are unable to work remotely and are forced to remain at home due to statewide stay-at-home orders
  • Those who were scheduled to start a job, but have not been able to do so due to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Those who have become the breadwinner for a household because the person who has been head of household has died as a direct result of COVID-19
  • Those who have had to quit their job because of COVID-19
  • Those whose workplace is closed as a direct result of COVID-19

How does PUA especially help parents?

Parents who rely on schools or child care facilities for childcare and are no longer able to work because those institutions are closed can receive benefits under PUA; these payments are made through the expanded unemployment insurance program. 

Also—see more below about expanded paid family leave benefits that may be available to some employees.

How much will families receive under PUA?

People who file and are approved for PUA will get a minimum of ½ of their state’s average UI benefit. Your payment may be higher depending on your recent earnings. 

The new PUA program also makes the additional $600 per week available, on top of existing state benefits, through the week ending July 26, 2020.   

Who isn’t eligible under PUA?

Unfortunately, undocumented workers are not able to access benefits through PUA. This also means that minor children who are citizens, but are born to undocumented parents, will not benefit from the CARES Act.

Additionally, states are still determining their own requirements for how gig workers or self-employed contractors will be required to document their lost work (and previous employment) in order to qualify for PUA. 

In a similar federal program, people could submit bank statements showing deposits of earnings, 1099 forms, invoices, and/or records they have kept of their earnings. If you were paid “off the books,” it may be complicated to collect PUA or UI unless you and/or your employer first corrects for past income and UI taxes that weren’t paid on your behalf.

Is there a catch?

Parents should be aware that this form of assistance counts as income. That means that it could change a family’s eligibility for other forms of public assistance that depend on one’s income level. (Note: this doesn’t apply to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.) 

How do I get started?

Find your state of employment here, and learn how to start applying for benefits. Given that PUA is a new program, many states are still creating their systems to apply for this new benefit.

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Additional cash relief to families through the CARES Act

In addition to the expanded unemployment insurance, the CARES Act will also give most families a cash payment—whether or not you have a job.

How much will my family get?

Single Americans with income up to $75,000 will receive $1,200; married couples in this income range would get $2,400, plus an additional $500 per child under age 17. 

The actual amount depends on your family’s income, since the amount will be lower for some people who make a bit more money. 

Here’s a good calculator from the Washington Post to help you estimate what you’re eligible for. 

What do I need to do to get it?

Most people won’t need to do anything. The Department of Treasury will send automatic payments to people who filed a 2019 or 2018 tax return by using the direct deposit information from their tax returns (if available). Others will get checks via mail, which will take a little longer. 

How does the government know how much to send me?

The rebate will be based upon your 2018 tax return, unless you’ve already filed your 2019 taxes. If you plan to file in 2019, it’s a good idea to do it ASAP. If you still intend to file 2018 taxes, here’s what you need to know about filing back taxes.

What if I didn’t file a tax return in 2018?

The IRS will issue guidance on how parents who didn’t file a tax return in 2018 can file a “simple tax return” in order to receive the payment. Here’s a link to the IRS FAQ page where they’ll post an update soon. 

What if I don’t have a social security number, or if my kids are citizens but I’m not?

For a household to receive this rebate, every person in the household must have a Social Security number—including kids. Unfortunately, this means that some families with kids who are U.S. citizens won’t be eligible if their parents are not.

When will payments arrive?

It’s possible rebates could start to reach families in as little as a month. But some of the experts predict it could take several months longer—especially for people who don’t have bank accounts on file with the IRS.

What if I’ve moved since my last return?

The Treasury plans to post an online portal for individuals to provide their bank account information to the IRS so that we can get money quickly, rather than wait for a check by mail. If you don’t have a bank account or need the check mailed to you, here’s info on updating your address with the IRS.

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Special note to caregivers: Expanded paid family leave benefits

In addition to the CARES Act, an earlier relief effort called the FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) provides two weeks of paid sick days and extends paid family leave to people such as parents staying home as caretakers during the crisis. 

How does this change existing family leave provisions?

Right now, most employees are guaranteed family leave—but it’s unpaid. Now, for people working at employers with less than 500 people, the first two weeks will still be unpaid, but employers are supposed to offer up to ten weeks of paid leave (the company then receives a rebate of $200/day to cover their costs).

It’s important to note that there are some provisions that allow employers of health care providers and emergency responders to choose not to provide paid leave. Also, businesses with fewer than 50 employees can be exempted, if providing paid leave would threaten their ability to stay in business.

How can I take advantage of this?

The FFCRA creates a new right to paid leave, as well as a reason for paid leave that doesn’t currently exist: To care for your child whose school is closed or child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.

The best thing to do is to talk to your employer about paid family leave options; this may be especially helpful to parents or others who need to be home to provide care, while still keeping them employed (yet providing relief to employers). 

There are also options to take the leave intermittently—meaning if you can work a few hours a day, but then need leave for childcare, you and your employer can work that out.

What support is available for families who are undocumented?

Unfortunately, there is a giant hole in the CARES Act in terms of the support it provides for undocumented workers. Families in this situation can check out coronavirus-related resources, listed nationally and by state, on the website Informed Immigrant.

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Additional Relief and Benefits

Congress is discussing additional options for providing pandemic relief. While FFCRA and the CARES Act are a start, the economic toll on families is likely to far exceed these resources. ParentsTogether is continuing to track the impact on families and their ability to cover their basic costs. Join us now to stay up to date on relief efforts and how they may affect your family. 

ParentsTogether is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit community of over 3 million parents, caregivers, and advocates working together to make the world a better place for all children and families.