Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: Frequently Asked Questions

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions:

PUA provides coverage for a large group of workers who are not normally covered by regular Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation.

You are likely eligible for PUA if you lost work due to the Covid-19 pandemic and any of the following describes your situation:

  • You applied for and were denied regular unemployment compensation benefits
  • You do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation
  • You are an independent contractor, self-employed individual, or gig worker
  • You worked for a religiously affiliated organization that does not pay unemployment compensation taxes
  • You do not have enough work history to get regular unemployment compensation

Main takeaway: if you cannot get regular UC and you lost work because of the pandemic, then you should be eligible for PUA.

Apply on the PUA website and click on the “File a PUA claim” button.

You must file a UC claim before you can apply for PUA. It is best not to apply for PUA until there is a determination letter disqualifying you from regular unemployment compensation.

No, you can only get benefits from one program at a time. Do not apply for PUA if you can get regular unemployment compensation.

No. Both regular unemployment compensation and PUA are for unemployed or partially unemployed individuals who lost their main source of income – not for those who lost income in their side business.

No, use the username and password you created when you applied.

PUA is taxable income for your federal taxes.  Find out more on our tax page.

Yes, work search requirements apply to PUA claimants starting on July 11.

Read more about work search here.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Denials and Claim Issues

Watch our two part video series on how to appeal a PUA determination through the portal. You can find the first video on YouTube by following this link: https://youtu.be/yMoBccrkYwk. Watch our second video on next steps by following the link here: https://youtu.be/rKPHJLLEGr8.

Appeal By Email

Send an email to [email protected] with the following information:

  1. Subject: Appealing PUA Determination
  2. Your full name and mailing address
  3. Your phone number
    The name, address and phone number of your employer (if applicable)
  4. The last four digits of your social security number (xxx-xx-1234)
  5. The mailing date of the determination that you are appealing
  6. A brief statement explaining that you are appealing a PUA determination and why you disagree with the determination

You only need to send one email. After you send the email to the address above, you will receive a confirmation email (check your spam folder as well).

If you do not receive this confirmation within an hour you should make sure that the email address was entered properly and try again.

When you appeal a Notice of Determination, or if your employer appeals a Notice of Determination, you will be scheduled for a Referee Hearing.  The Referee hearing works like a mini-trial.  Both you and your employer will have an opportunity to testify and present evidence.  You should bring all relevant documentation (ex: termination letters, doctors notes, communications with supervisors) with you to the hearing.

You have a right to a representative in Unemployment Compensation Hearings. We strongly advise that you seek legal representation for your hearing.  If you have a hearing scheduled and would like representation or advice for the hearing, you can request a continuance of the hearing so that you can find legal representation.  You can email or fax a request for a continuance to the Referee office (fax number and email address should be on the Notice of Hearing you received).  The Referee office strongly prefers that you ask for a continuance more than 48 hours in advance – however, if you want a representative it is okay to ask for a continuance at any time, even during the hearing.

You can call the phone number on your Notice of Hearing if you have questions about the hearing. 

Referee Hearings During COVID-19

Referee hearings are being held by telephone during COVID-19.  Make sure that your correct phone number is on the Notice of Hearing.  The Referee will call you on that phone number at the time of the hearing.

The Department’s web page about referee hearings during COVID-19 goes into more detail about the process.

Finding Free Legal Advice and Representation

Unlike in criminal law cases, there is not a lawyer automatically assigned to your case for an unemployment hearing.  However, legal aid organizations across Pennsylvania offer free legal advice, and often representation in UC hearings, to claimants who qualify for their services.  If you have little or no income, you should generally qualify.  You can find your local legal aid provider on the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network website.

You may also find help from a local law school legal clinic.

There may be an “issue” listed on your PUA claim summary based on information you provided in your initial application or a weekly claim.

The issue will either say “completed” or “new.”  If it says completed, then it is not holding up benefits.  If it says new, it may be causing a delay in your benefits as the Department investigates the issue.

This means that the government believes you are eligible for UC or PEUC in Pennsylvania or another state.  If you are eligible for regular unemployment compensation program, you have to collect regular unemployment compensation, not PUA.

If you have been disqualified due to “other program eligibility,” the government should help you set up your regular UC claim.  If that does not happen, contact legal aid or your local state legislator.

You can request that PUA backdate your claim to the week you lost work due to COVID-19. 

If you first applied for PUA in 2020, then you can backdate as far as the date you lost work (no further than February 2, 2020). lost your job. For example, if you like many others lost work on March 16, you can request benefits back to that week.

If you applied for PUA benefits in 2021, then the furthest you can backdate is Dec. 5, 2020. However, if you previously applied for UC and were denied, you can get backdating to the date of your original UC application.

Email [email protected]

  • Include “Back Date Request” in the subject line of the email.
  • Provide exact dates and how COVID-19 affected your employment or self-employment for the additional weeks you want to claim.
  • Only send one email request
  • Include enough personal information to connect you with your PUA claim (last four of social, name, and DOB).

Common Tech Issues with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Your original claim is still available to view, but you are now on the American Rescue Plan extenstion until September 4, 2021.  

You can view your original claim using the drop down menu on the upper left hand corner of your claim summary.

You most likely do not have an American Rescue Plan extension built for your claim.  If there are not two claims available on a drop down menu in the upper left hand corner of your claim summary, then you need an extension built.  Contact PUA and ask for an ARP extension on your claim.  You do not need to, and should not, file a new application.

First, check your portal to see if the issue is listed as “IP – Investigation Case Special Project.” If it is, you have an identity issue on your claim. Take the following steps to fix the hold on your account.

  • Check for a message in your portal instructing you to use ID.Me. 
    • If you signed up 
  • After you receive this message from the government, do the following to fix the hold on your account:
  • Click on the link to the ID.Me website in the message. You should see a PUA logo in the corner of the webpage.
  • Verify your identity one of two ways:
    • Upload one of the following documents to your account:
      • State-issued ID
      • Driver’s
      • License
      • Passport
      • Passport card
    • Video chat with an ID.Me employee if you get stuck

After you complete this process, you should receive a confirmation message in your portal. If there are no other issue with your account, then you should receive your money within the next few days.

All new PUA claimants are required to verify their identity.

Second, there may be an issue that the government is investigating in your claim.  If you have not been paid since you first filed, then you are waiting for a claim examiner to look at your case.  If you were being paid and then your benefits stopped when an issue appeared, you should contact PUA immediately to have your benefits released.  The government cannot stop your benefits unless there is a determination in your portal finding you ineligible.

All claimants received a message in their inbox on Friday, April 23, 2021, announcing the new documentation requirement for PUA. This is based on changes made to the CARES Act in December 2020.

The message was unclear. Additional messages were then sent to all claimants.

In order to be eligible for weeks in the year 2021, PUA claimants must provide documentation of employment or self-employment prior to the pandemic.

  • If you first applied for PUA in 2020, then your document must show some proof of work between January 2019 and when you applied for PUA.
  • If you first applied for PUA in 2021, then your document must show some proof of work between January 2020 and when you applied for PUA.

Many PUA claimants already have documents uploaded (like 1099s, tax returns, paystubs, or offer letters) to their portal. You do not need to upload documents again.

This requirement does not affect PUA benefits for weeks in 2020. It is only for benefits claimed in 2021.

In 2020, claimants could only collect 39 weeks of PUA.  If you filed for more than 39 weeks, then you will see “Benefits Exhausted” next to those weeks on your payment summary.

However, many claimants have been incorrectly cut off from benefits due to “benefits exhausted.”  This includes many claimants who were accidentally double paid by the PUA system last summer, and claimants who had their weekly benefit amount lowered by a new monetary determination.

In these situations, the PUA system wrongly cut off claimants by finding they had already received all of their benefits. That was wrong.  If you were overpaid through no fault of your own, then you should continue to recieve benefits with a 1/3 offset due to the overpayment.

As a result of this error, many claimants are missing weeks in 2020 and some, or all, of the original 11 week extension in 2021.

We have made the government aware of this problem and they working to fix it.  Once they have fixed the programming error, claimants will receive all of their back benefits.