CARES Act enhances unemployment benefits

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By Justin Smith

The CARES Act created a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program that will help provide financial relief to families, small businesses, and even independent contractors who partly or fully lose their livelihood (even temporarily) as part of the overall Coronavirus stimulus response.
The program will be administered by the states and is designed to provide up to an additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits to eligible recipients for weeks of unemployment beginning March 29 and ending on or before July 31, 2020, on top of the Alabama maximum of $275 per week. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program also provides up to an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for eligible recipients.
The Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) administers the state’s unemployment laws and benefits, and received more than 80,000 claims for benefits according to a recent press release, with nearly all of those claims directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Generally speaking, employees who are laid off, temporarily furloughed, or have their hours reduced by employers are eligible to apply for and receive benefits. Self-quarantining due to possible COVID-19 exposure is not generally covered if the employee if otherwise available to work. However, employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 and are ill or seeking/receiving treatment will be eligible for benefits.
ADOL has announced that it is still receiving and reviewing guidance on the implementation of unemployment benefits covered under the CARES Act, but employees will be eligible for retroactive benefits from the time they were laid off, furloughed or otherwise separated from employment.
Individual who may be eligible for unemployment benefits include self-employed individuals, church and nonprofit employees, independent contractors and gig economy workers, as well as W2 employees.
Individuals who have been diagnosed, their immediate families including children and spouses, as well as individuals who are unable to work due to their organization closing, and individuals who resigned their jobs due to COVID-19 may all be eligible for benefits.
ADOL is encouraging everyone who has experienced job loss to apply for benefits online at labor.alabama.gov. The Web site is likely to be slow to respond considering the expected significant activity.
If you are facing unemployment or reduction of hours, maintain the critical “four walls” that financial expert Dave Ramsey recommends. Those four walls are food, utilities, shelter and transportation. If your income suddenly disappears due to a job layoff, it is critical to prioritize your most critical needs. The first priority is to feed you and your family. The second priority is to keep your utilities connected (fortunately, most utility companies are suspending nonpayment disconnections during the pandemic).
Third, keep a roof over your head (most mortgage companies are offering at least 90-day forbearances for individuals who lose their employment during the pandemic). Finally, make sure to keep transportation available.
Most economists expect the economy to rebound reasonably quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, but explore all options to maintain your income until that happens (whether it is unemployment, side jobs, or savings).
Justin Smith is a licensed certified public accountant in Opelika, specializing in individual and small business tax and accounting. He can be contacted at 334-400-9234 or Justin@JSmithCPA.net. His website is www.jsmithcpa.net.

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