CARES Act Introduces Major Changes to Unemployment Insurance

The significant $600 weekly federal supplement to unemployment insurance benefits should reach states beginning the week of April 6, according to Fox Business. This and other key changes to unemployment insurance have been made in response to the unprecedented economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the “CARES Act” not only increases the available weekly benefit – which in Louisiana is usually capped at about $250 – it also broadens eligibility for unemployment benefits dramatically, lengthens the available benefit term, and waives both standard waiting periods and requirements to seek work. 

Under CARES, the definition of eligible individuals has been extended beyond hourly and salaried employees to also include the self-employed, gig workers, and those with limited work history. Benefits are also available for those unable to work after contracting COVID-19, or those caring for a family member who contracted COVID-19.  

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance expands the criteria for unemployment compensation eligibility. If an individual is unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work due to any of the following related to COVID-19, the individual may qualify to receive unemployment benefits:  

  • An individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking diagnosis; 
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19; 
  • An individual is caring for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19; 
  • An individual is the primary caregiver of a child or household member who is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed due to COVID-19; 
  • An individual is unable to reach their place of employment due to an imposed quarantine or was advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19; 
  • An individual was scheduled to commence new employment and does not have a job or cannot reach the job as a direct result of COVID-19; 
  • An individual became the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household died from COVID-19; 
  • An individual has to quit a job as a direct result of COVID-19; or 
  • An individual’s place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19. 

Unemployment insurance benefits vary by application depending on the amount of lost wages and employment category (salaried, self-employed, et cetera). Applicants are no longer required to wait one week before collecting benefits, and the requirement that an applicant be looking for work is waived.  

Under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, eligible individuals who are collecting certain UI benefits, including regular unemployment compensation, will receive an additional $600 in federal benefits per week for weeks of unemployment ending on or before July 31, 2020. 

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program allows those who have exhausted benefits under regular unemployment compensation or other programs to receive up to 13 weeks of additional benefits. This program expires on December 31, 2020. 

Employers should be aware that if a worker quits in the absence of these COVID-19 criteria, employers should immediately inform the Louisiana Workforce Commission via its Form 77 – Separation Notice, which can be accessed at In these cases, employers will need to note their business is open, the employee’s function is still required, and there are no COVID-19 circumstances necessitating the individual’s decision to leave. Please note that this Separation Notice must be filed within 3 days of the date the worker separates from the business. 

Additional Resources: 

Louisiana Workforce Commission 

Louisiana Application Step-by-Step Video 

House Ways and Means FAQs  

Full Text of CARES Act 

Case by Case Scenarios  (NBC News) 

More CARES Act Information (NPR) 

CARES Act Questions (NYTimes) 

Updated April 8.

Elizabeth Walker

As the Policy and Research Project Manager, Elizabeth Walker provides leadership on initiatives and policies, project management, research analysis and administration for initiatives that advance BRAC’s annual policy agenda.

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