Parents and other caregivers of children who are learning at home while schools are closed – even for part of the week – can receive weekly cash benefits, regardless of whether they would normally qualify for unemployment.
That’s according to guidance released at the end of August from the U.S. Department of Labor about who is eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The program, part of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief plan, is aimed at those affected by the virus who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits.
Workers entitled to benefits via PUA, which pays a minimum of $189 per week, and often far more, include those who are:
- diagnosed with the coronavirus;
- caring for someone in the same household who has COVID-19;
- in quarantine due to the pandemic;
- or, who have had to quit their jobs or reduce their work hours due to the virus.
The new guidance makes clear that parents and other caregivers who have left jobs or lost income in order to care for kids learning from home this school year, and who cannot work from home, are also entitled to PUA. The benefits are not available, however, for those who have chosen to have their children learn from home when in-person classes are being offered.
Zach Schiller, research director for a progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio, said he’s been hounding state officials and trying to spread the word in education circles about what could be “a significant benefit” for many parents – a benefit many don’t even know about.
Parents and caregivers eligible for PUA this fall could receive what they’d be entitled to if they qualified for regular unemployment, plus $300 per week in federal payments.
Schiller is concerned many won’t take advantage of the PUA benefits because the guidance was released so late, and because the application process can be complicated.
Here’s what you need to know about PUA if you’re taking care of kids who are learning at home and you’ve lost income or been forced to quit your job:
How do I apply?
Online, go to pua.unemployment.ohio.gov, or call the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services at 1-833-604-0774. The department encourages applicants to call on weekends, when call volume is lowest. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.
You’ll need your Social Security number (as well as your child’s), date of birth, address and phone number, driver’s license or state ID number, dates of employment for 2019, reason for unemployment and a 2019 tax return, if available.
Do I have to apply and be rejected for regular unemployment benefits first?
If you made at least $269 per week in your most recent job and worked 20 weeks or more in the past year, you have to apply for traditional unemployment benefits and receive a determination of eligibility before receiving PUA. If you meet these criteria and quit employment or were fired with good cause and therefore do not qualify for unemployment, you’ll receive a denial and then may receive PUA, if you qualify. That application process is separate from applying for unemployment.
Workers can also go ahead and apply for PUA while waiting for a decision on regular unemployment eligibility.
This may make it difficult for parents to decide whether to quit a job to take care of their kids, Schiller said.
“Who wants to quit their job not being totally sure they can get these benefits?” he said.
If you did not earn at least $269 per week and worked more than 20 weeks in the past year, you can skip the unemployment application and apply only to PUA, an ODJFS spokesman said.
What questions will I need to answer to apply?
You may be asked if you are the primary caregiver for your child who is learning from home. If multiple parents or caregivers are in the household, the person who can’t work because they are helping with school would be eligible for PUA.
You may be asked if you have an option to work from home. Many jobs cannot be done remotely. If your job can be done from home, you may be asked whether taking care of your child prevents you from completing your work at home. If not, you would not be eligible.
How long will PUA benefits last?
Only until the end of 2020. It’s unclear whether the benefits will be extended into the 2021 portion of the current school year. The extra $300 federal payments are available retroactively for those who were out of work from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5.
What if my child attends school in person some days but is home others?
You are still entitled to some assistance. Parents whose children attend school districts with so-called hybrid learning (part in-person, part virtual) can file for unemployment for the days their children are learning from home, but must report their income for the days they are able to work, according to the guidelines.
This story is part of Coping With COVID-19, an ideastream reporting project and local journalism collaborative funded by Third Federal Foundation and University Settlement. The series expands coverage of the local impacts of COVID-19 in Northeast Ohio and investigates how the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted and laid bare the existing inequities that stem from decades of disinvestment in public health, the social safety net, preventive medicine and communities of color.