Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Reminder: Federal pandemic unemployment benefits, including PEUC, PUA, FPUC and MEUC, ended Sept. 4, 2021. Learn more.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, is a federal CARES Act program for people who are unable to work as a result of COVID-19 and who are not eligible for regular state unemployment benefits, such as self-employed workers and independent contractors.
Claimants may receive up to 79 weeks of PUA benefits through Sept. 4, 2021. The number of eligible weeks I reduced by any weeks the claimant received of state unemployment insurance benefits and federal Extended Benefits.
IMPORTANT: Federal guidelines require any claimants who have received PUA benefits on or after Dec. 27, 2021 to provide proof of prior employment or self-employment to receive benefits. Claimants fail to submit acceptable documentation by the deadline in their notice from DES will not be eligible to continue receiving PUA benefits and may be required to pay back benefits received since Dec. 27, 2020. Learn more.
Important information about applying for PUA
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a federal pandemic assistance program that is separate from state unemployment insurance benefits. People are not automatically eligible for PUA when they exhaust state unemployment benefits and extensions.
DES must review claims individually to determine whether a person is eligible for PUA. When claim volumes are high, it may take several weeks for the claimant to receive a determination of benefits.
Ongoing eligibility for PUA is evaluated on a week-by-week basis, and claimants must be out work due to a COVID-19 related reason under the CARES Act each week to keep receiving benefits.
For example, a person may have been found eligible for PUA after certifying that they were unable to work because they were diagnosed with COVID-19. If, weeks later, that person no longer has COVID-19, that would not be a valid reason for continuing to receive PUA benefits.
It is important that claimants provide accurate and complete information when applying for benefits. Claimants who are found to have received benefits fraudulently are required to repay the Division of Employment Security and could be subject to criminal prosecution pursuant to state and federal laws.
How to Apply
- Sign into your online account at des.nc.gov and click on the Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance link to complete the application process.
- If you are currently receiving state unemployment benefits, you will not see a link to file for PUA. You must be ineligible for regular state unemployment benefits to receive PUA.
To receive payments, you must complete a Weekly Certification for every week you file for benefits. In your Weekly Certification, report any wages you earned during that week.
Any benefits owed for previous weeks will be paid retroactively.
Tips for Applying for PUA
1. DES recommends you upload all necessary documents with your application before you click ‘Submit.’ However, you can submit your application even if documents, such as tax returns, are not yet available.
If you do not have your documents when you start your application, you can save your work and come back to it when you are ready to submit all of your information. Failure to provide documentation could result in an individual being provided the minimum weekly benefit amount for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Examples of documents to show past employment and income:
- 2019 Tax Returns
- Recent Paycheck Stubs
- Bank Receipts
- Billing statements, notices
- Business licenses
- Contracts, invoices, ledgers
Examples of documents to show COVID-19 as the reason for loss of work:
- Documentation from medical professionals related to diagnosis or isolation instructions
- Notices from school or childcare providers
- Notices from county or state government regarding business closures or stay at home orders
- Documentation that a job offer or need for your services was cancelled or delayed because of COVID-19
2. If you’re a 1099 employee, list the name and address displayed on your 1099 when completing the last employer section on your application.
On the Employment History page, select Add North Carolina Employer.
On the next page, self-employed workers and independent contractors should click on the green Manual Entry button.
On the Manual Entry page:
Enter the name and address you use for work purposes. (i.e., Joe Claimant or Joe Claimant’s Business)
Upload your proof of income before submitting your claim.
3. Complete your Weekly Certifications for every week you are filing for benefits.
A Weekly Certification is a series of yes/no questions that helps determine your eligibility for benefits each week. If you do not complete a Weekly Certification, you will not be considered for payment.
Log into your online account to complete your Weekly Certification.
'I'm terrified:' 70% of unemployed workers in NC will stop getting federal benefits Sept. 4
For the last 17 months, extended federal benefits helped those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, but now, according to the North Carolina Division of Employment Security, about 70% of those unemployed currently getting money will no longer qualify after Sept. 4.
"I'm terrified," Jeannie Heath said.
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She's been getting unemployment benefits since March of 2020 after losing four different contracts. She has more than 30 years of experience working in the insurance and automotive industry, but her experience is not helping her land a job.
"I've got a lot of experience, I just can't get my foot in the door. It seems like the things I'm qualified for, there is a lot of competition," she said.
She also said she believes age is a factor.
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"My opinion -- I'm finding ageism is alive and well. I think some people look at me that I'm too old to work, but too young to retire," she said.
"There are jobs out there, but there are no jobs that will necessarily keep a roof over your head, you're going to be the working poor," Heath added.
Single mom of three Jeanna Rinehart has also been surviving on the extended unemployment benefits.
"I'm scared that I'll lose my place to live, which I got myself after becoming separated," she said.
Her biggest obstacle standing in the way of her getting back into the workforce is child care.
"Daycare is really expensive if I was to go back to work, I'd be working to pay daycare. I'm trying every outlet I can to find something to work from home. I'm praying for a miracle, maybe a job will come through," Rinehart said.
She says she's tried desperately to find a job and is frustrated when she hears from people that everyone is hiring.
"'Just go get a job.' If it was that easy, I would have done that the minute things opened back up," she said.
For others, COVID-19 health and safety concerns are making it tough for them to find a job.
"The pandemic, COVID-19 is still going on strong," Louise Riddick said.
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She says she's applied for dozens of jobs, but no offers from jobs that she feels don't put her health at risk.
"I don't know how I'm going to pay my rent," Riddick said.
Allison Ratkovich lost both of her jobs at the start of the pandemic and says the extended unemployment benefits have been her lifeline.
"So grateful. It's what's kept me in my home instead of on the street," she said.
While out of work, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
"Now I'm having to look for jobs that don't impact my health," she said.
Ratkovich says she's taken steps to prepare for losing her benefits but it doesn't make it any easier.
"I'm worried. I've tried to save up every nickel and dime, but it's not going to be enough to get me through the next couple of months," she said.
She wants the government to take action and extend benefits especially with the rise in COVID-19 cases.
"If they are trying to force people to get jobs I don't think this is the right way to go about it, especially with the pandemic numbers going up," she said.
Bill Rowe with the North Carolina Justice Center, an organization helping the unemployed navigate the system, says there are probably about 150,000 people that are going to be affected by the expiration of the extended federal benefits.
Rowe says this will hurt the economy because, since the pandemic started, the extra federal unemployment funds pumped more than $10 billion into the hands of the North Carolina unemployed.
"Unemployment insurance money, that money gets spent, that gets spent at businesses, it gets spent for your mortgage, it gets spent for utility bills, and buys clothing and other things that people need. So all of those businesses are going to see a little less money coming in," he said.
Rowe disagrees with the critics that claim the extended benefits have stopped people from getting a job.
"The federal unemployment insurance does not prevent or keep or incentivize people from going back to work, and how it's claimed and one thing you can look at is North Carolina's unemployment rate has been going down," he said. "We're pretty much around four...percent and the states that cut off unemployment -- that's about 26 states and cut off the federal program early -- they're not doing as well as North Carolina in getting people back to work."
Rowe believes the unemployment system, especially here in North Carolina needs to be fixed.
"It's just a shame, we're going to go back to the pre-pandemic unemployment system. In this state, and it's one of the worst," he said.
Under NC law, the state provides up to 13 weeks of unemployment in a one-year period to those that lose their jobs. Many states provide 26 weeks of benefits.
"I don't think North Carolina is even close to working towards some reform. I think we're really dependent and reliant on the federal government trying to do something about it," Rowe said. "We're not the only state in that situation. I think the federal program has worked. It doesn't need to be as what was created for the pandemic, but there are just people that are left out of the systems, and there are few of the benefits offered are ridiculous free low even in North Carolina, and so there are just some guardrails that need to be established so that we at least have some system that can provide some help for people who need it."
Governor Roy Cooper on Thursday issued an Executive Order that reinstates certain unemployment benefits requirements after Sept. 4.
"As the pandemic hit, we cut red tape and made temporary changes to unemployment insurance to help people get benefits and to protect employers and employees," Cooper said. "North Carolina's paltry unemployment benefits are some of the stingiest in the country, and I will continue to urge the legislature to improve the state's benefits as we return to normal procedures."
Executive Order No. 231 reinstates the waiting period for unemployment benefits under state law and directs the Division of Employment Security to resume charging of employer accounts for all individuals paid unemployment benefits, including those unemployed for reasons related to COVID-19.
Under the Order, all unemployment claimants will be subject to a one-week waiting period before they may receive their first unemployment benefit payment and employers' unemployment accounts will be charged each quarter for all employees who were paid unemployment benefits that quarter.
For anyone who still has a case pending or is in the appeal process when it comes to unemployment benefits, you should continue to fight it as you will be paid your benefits retroactively if you're found eligible for benefits.
The week ending Sept. 4, 2021, is the last payable week for the following benefit programs:
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
- Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC)
If there is a balance remaining on your account after September 4th, 2021 no PEUC, PUA, FPUC, or MEUC benefits may be paid for weeks ending after Sept. 4, 2021, because of the ending of these programs.
If you have more questions about the ending of federal benefits click here for some answers from the NC DES.
A year into COVID pandemic, unemployed workers still struggling to get benefits
ABC11 Troubleshooter Diane Wilson has helped dozens of desperate viewers cut through the red tape to get their money, and while NCDES has paid out more than $10 billion in state and federal benefits since the pandemic started, their work is far from over. Wilson continues to hear from frustrating unemployed daily who say they can't get answers from DES when it comes to their benefits.
Lloyd Askew, who is unemployed, sent an email stating, "My family and have severely struggled through this pandemic because of the unprofessional handling of this situation by DES. Again, the only response that I have been given since filing the PUA claim on September 4, 2020, is that its in pending status and can't move forward until the appeal's department do their part. This is truly appalling and disgusting if I may add, and unprofessional at its worst."
RELATED: 'This is ridiculous': Unemployed workers struggle while waiting for benefits to renew
While it has taken time for DES to work through the surge of claims filed due to the pandemic, Pryor Gibson, the Assistant Secretary of DES said during a recent legislative oversight committee on unemployment insurance that his agency has made progress over the year. According to their data, just 2% of claims are still pending resolution for state and federal benefits.
The focus right now for DES is to handle the backlog when it comes to appeals.
"Our PUA backlog is essentially non-existent. We've been able to manage those hundreds of thousands of cases now after adding those folks and we are now turning our resources to address those appeals backlog," Gibson said during the hearing. To handle that backlog, DES says it's quadrupled its staff of appeal referees.
"Due to the surge in claims related to the COVID-19, it is taking longer than usual to schedule appeals hearings. The time between notification and the actual hearing date is about 14 -21 days, though scheduling the appeal hearing may take a few months," a DES representative added.
When it comes to other improvements since the pandemic, DES upgraded their online filing system and as of this month still has a staff of nearly 1,600. However, despite the additions, federal data shows North Carolina ranking 43rd in the country for timeliness of first-time payments.
One hurdle according to DES, implementing and administering multiple new state and federal pandemic assistance programs. During the hearing in front of the legislative committee, he told them, "We are not done. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We have a lot of improvements we still need to make."
The division is also working hard to prevent fraud. A representative says, "Fraud resulting from outside identity theft has emerged as an issue for states during the COVID-19 pandemic and DES continues to refine its fraud detection methods and metrics."
Here are the increased efforts DES says it's taking to prevent and detect unemployment fraud include:
- Implementing new alerting tools for DES staff to use in their investigations.
- Participating in a multi-state data hub with information about known and potentially fraudulent claims and receiving information from the National Directory of New Hires and the Wage Crossmatch programs.
- Monitoring trends and tips to identify potential fraud schemes.
One big change for those who are unemployed, starting this week, for the first time since the pandemic new claimants are required to complete work search activities each week in order to receive benefits.
Also, for many unemployed who lost their jobs at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in March of 2020, it means they have to reapply for benefits as a claimant's benefit year for state unemployment insurance is the 52-week period beginning from the date the person files a valid claim. A benefit year is not based on the calendar year.
If you are still filing for unemployment, DES says claimants will be prompted through their online account to file a new claim when their new benefit year begins. We are already hearing for those impacted that their benefits are less after they re-apply.
One ABC11 who wished to remain anonymous writes, "I have been collecting unemployment since last March because of the pandemic. On 3/14, I had to renew, and my weekly amount went from $186 to $20! The base period used to calculate were wages earned from Oct 2019 to Sep 2020. I was unemployed or with drastically reduced hours during this time and it was at the height of the pandemic. Using wages during a time of unemployment makes no sense."
To find out more information about unemployment benefits in North Carolina click here.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - As the months ticked by Kelly was left waiting.
She filed her first unemployment claim on March 22nd after she was let go by the daycare company she worked for. She’s one of 110,212 people who still have an unresolved claim with the North Carolina Division of Employment Security.
“It’s extremely frustrating nobody on the call center lines can help you,” Kelly said.
“They’ll tell you they’ll escalate your call and you’ll get a call back with 48-72 hours. I’ve had ten escalations and still have not received a call back from DES.”
But according to a memo from DES on July 10th there are no pending state unemployment insurance claims filed between March 15th and April 18th.
That’s technically true from Kelly. Her UI claim was denied within two weeks of filing because she worked for a non-profit. But after her federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Claim was filed in April it was backdated to March 15th.
Another person who reached out to us has a similar problem. Hey PUA claim from March 29th is also still pending.
“As far as you’re concerned you don’t feel like anything has been resolved?” a WBTV reporter asked Kelly.
“No, nothing has been resolved. I’ve gotten four months and nothing.”
WBTV reached out to DES to ask them how many PUA claims dated in March are still active.
A spokesperson said that after PUA became available claims were filed between April 24th and May 16th, some of which may have been backdated to account for retroactive pay. The spokesperson said there are roughly 14,000 pending PUA claims from that period.
There are also several reasons why a PUA claim may be pending.
- Federal programs. States’ systems are built to administer regular state unemployment insurance (UI) programs. Temporary federal programs, such as PUA, have their own sets of eligibility requirements. Staff may need more time and information from the claimant to verify eligibility for special federal programs.
- Questions concerning state unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility. Federal guidelines specify that a person must be ineligible for UI to be eligible for PUA.
- Complexity of the PUA claim review. Often staff are finding that the individual is eligible for a different program – additional UI, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or Extended Benefits – and an application for the appropriate program must be processed.
Late Tuesday afternoon Kelly informed WBTV that her PUA claim was denied and she’ll have to file an appeal.
“I’ve stretched my money as far as I can and now, I need resolution for a 16 week old claim,” Kelly said.
Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved.
Pending nc pua
By Travis Fain, WRAL statehouse reporter
Raleigh, N.C. — When the state denies unemployment benefits, it takes months just to get an appeal appointment to plead your case.
So James Peden was ready to go when his appeal came up late last month, more than six months after he requested it.
Then he was surprised. Then he was exasperated. The appeals referee assigned to hear his case that morning wasn't there, because she'd left the job more than a month before.
In fact, she left two weeks before the state Division of Employment Security even reached out to give Peden his hearing date
Peden stood at the front desk in disbelief as a DES employee told him he'd have to call the appeals hotline – the number he'd already spent hours dialing and redialing – to schedule a new appointment.
"None of this makes sense to me," Peden recalled last week. "I show up, and the lady doesn’t even work there. I mean, I can’t make that up."
Peden's case may have been a one-off. DES spokeswoman Kerry McComber said the appeal was scheduled with a former referee in error, and it's the only instance DES knows of that happening. The division reached out to schedule a new March appeal date for Peden after WRAL News asked about his case.
But the process can be a long and winding one, even under the better conditions, as the state works out from under the avalanche of 3.4 million unemployment claims from 1.4 million people seeking help from multiple unemployment programs that rolled in over the last year.
A normal year, based on average claims filed from 2016 through 2019, would be less than 190,000 claims.
Since April of last year, 77,357 appeals like Peden's have been filed. Of those, there are about 30,000 still to be heard, and new appeals roll in regularly.
State law requires the appeals be heard by an attorney, and DES has about 90 of them, McComber said. That's 333 outstanding appeals per referee.
North Carolina has some of the slowest turnaround times in the nation on appeals, based on average age of pending cases statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor. McComber said there are caveats, though.
That data doesn't include appeals the state handles for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that expanded benefits to people who don't usually qualify, such as self-employed workers and independent contractors. McComber said that, as DES brought in new referees, it trained them to hear the PUA appeals first because they are often less complicated.
With the PUA backlog reduced, McComber said DES expects to make progress on the backlog from other programs soon.
Gov. Roy Cooper's team at DES has run seven different unemployment benefit programs over the last 11 months as various federal benefit boosts were layered onto the state's regular benefits program. It just added an eighth.
The state has paid more than $10 billion in claims since March of last year.
Peden said he understands all that, but he's been dealing with the system for 11 months. He lost his job in March 2020 and quickly applied for benefits. He went back to work in late June but never got an unemployment check for the time he missed.
He cannot calculate the time spent on a phone or a computer going back and forth with DES.
“I just feel like the whole process has been kind of like a zoo," he said.
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