2021 Unemployment Update: What You Need to Know about the Continued Assistance Act

In the face of continued strain resulting from the ongoing coronavirus situation, the Continued Assistance Act of 2020 (CAA) was enacted on December 27, 2020. This Act extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) and other parts of the part of the CARES Act beyond the original end date of December 26, 2020, adds a new benefits program, and makes a few other changes.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program Recap

As a brief recap, PUA is a temporary federal program that now provides up to 50 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who:
• are unable to work (or unable to work as many hours) as a result of COVID-19 pandemic and
• are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance (such as independent contractors, self-employed worked, non-profit employees, and part-time workers with minimal work history)

If you have wages from a covered employer (one that paid unemployment taxes) within the last 18 months, you must first file a Regular Wisconsin unemployment application. If you are found ineligible for regular unemployment and are out of work due to a COVID-related reason, then you should subsequently apply for PUA.
For more information about PUA, visit:
4 Steps to Applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in Wisconsin
A Guide to COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits for WI Workers

New PUA Changes and Requirements

The CAA creates the following changes to the PUA benefits program:
• New initial claims for PUA benefits filed after December 27th can only be backdated to a job loss on December 1st at the earliest.
• The CAA permits new PUA benefit applicants until March 13, 2021, after which there will be a “PUA Phase-out” period. If you have remaining weeks of PUA benefit entitlement as of March 13, 2021, you may continue to collect remaining PUA through April 10, 2021 (unless the program is extended again at a later date) or your benefit period expires.
• PUA claimants have to provide documentation of their employment, self-employment, or the job offer/work they were supposed to start for any PUA weeks ending 1/2/2021 or later.
o Continued PUA claims or initial PUA claims filed prior to January 31st will have 90 days to provide this documentation.
o If you don’t provide this requested documentation you will be liable for repaying PUA benefits for weeks ending 1/2/2021 and later.
• Effective week ending 2/6/21, you must provide the pandemic-related reason for PUA-eligibility each week.
• Overpayment of PUA benefits can now be waived under certain circumstances (ex. if the claimant is not at fault for the mistaken payment and repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience)

Additional 24 weeks of Regular Unemployment Benefits

Regular unemployment is traditionally available to eligible individuals for up to 26 weeks. Under the CARES Act, and now extended by CAA, if you have exhausted your 26 weeks of regular unemployment and remain unemployed, you may be eligible for up to 24 additional weeks of benefits at the same rate (this program is called Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation, or PEUC).
You must file a separate claim for PEUC benefits once your regular unemployment benefits are exhausted. The CAA extends PEUC benefits similar to PUA, with no new applicants after March 13, 2021, followed by a phase-out period ending on April 3, 2021.

Additional $300/week for 11 weeks

The CAA also provides, in part, for an additional $300 in benefits to be automatically added to benefit payments for the 11-week time period between week ending January 2, 2021 and week ending March 13, 2021. In other words, if you are approved for unemployment benefits, whether they are pandemic or regular unemployment benefits, you will receive an extra $300 per week during the January to March timeframe.

If you are already approved for benefits, you do not need to take any additional action to receive this payment; just continue to file your claim each week while you are unemployed. If you have a pending unemployment application, you do not need to apply again to receive this amount. If are approved for benefits covering this period at a later date, the extra benefit amount will automatically be included and back benefits will show up in your bank account as a lump sum. In your claimant portal the amounts will be broken out by week.

New Program: Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC)

The CAA creates a new benefit option, Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), for independent contractors. MEUC provides that claimants who have more than $5,000 in self-employment income for the calendar year previous to their initial claim (for example, if the initial claim was established in 2020, use tax year 2019) are automatically eligible for an additional weekly benefit of $100 on top of their regular unemployment benefits. When applying for MEUC, you must provide documentation of your net self-employment earnings, usually tax returns. Because MEUC is a new program instituted by CAA, it only runs from week ending January 2, 2021 to week ending March 13, 2021.

Update Your Wisconsin Unemployment Benefits Application

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development website is where you can submit benefit applications, and is the best place to find the most recent updates regarding unemployment programs, rules, and eligibility requirements.

Contact Our Wisconsin Unemployment Benefits Attorneys for Assistance

If you or someone you know has an employment question, please contact our experienced employment lawyers in Milwaukee or Madison. We represent only employees, all the time, and are standing by to help you get through the coronavirus emergency.

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Natalie Gerloff