Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc. (LAWO) is a non-profit regional law firm that provide high quality legal assistance in civil matters to help eligible low-income individuals and groups in western Ohio achieve self reliance, and equal justice and economic opportunity.
New unemployment benefits available for Ohioans
Unemployment rates remain high in Ohio during the COVID 19 pandemic. While some important unemployment benefits temporarily expired in 2020, new assistance became available through the Continued Assistance to Unemployed Workers Act (CAA), which is an extension of the CARES Act unemployment provisions, and more recently, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
In March 2020, the CARES Act delivered crucial Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits to categories of workers that were formerly ineligible for benefits, providing the worker was unemployed due to a reason related to COVID 19. These people included self-employed and/or gig workers and workers who did not earn the minimum required weekly earning amount. The CARES Act also provided for 13 additional weeks of eligibility for unemployment benefits, for a total of 39 weeks for all workers. The CARES Act also allowed for an additional federal unemployment benefit, Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), which provided a $600 weekly benefit to all unemployed workers.
While these programs expired temporarily in 2020, continued assistance became available again through the CAA and the ARPA. PUA and PEUC benefits were extended by 11 weeks to March 14, 2021. Workers who had already been approved for these benefits and had not exhausted their weeks, could continue to receive benefits through the week of April 5, 2021. PUC benefits were also extended for 11 weeks, but the weekly benefit amount has been lowered from $600 weekly to $300 weekly. The $300 weekly payment did not count as income for purposes of the Medicaid program in 2020. Now, the payments do not count as income towards both the Medicaid and the food assistance programs. These benefits were scheduled to stop on March 14, 2021 with no further extension available.
A new weekly benefit, Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC), also became available to workers who have at least $5000 in net self-employment income in addition to W-2 income. These individuals will receive a $400 weekly benefit. This program was scheduled to run from January 2, 2021 through March 14, 2021. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was signed into law on March 11, 2021. That federal legislation expands upon the benefits already made available through the CARES Act and the CAA. Now, PUA, PUC, PEUC and MEUC will be extended beyond the expiration date of March 14, 2021 until September 6, 2021. Additionally, the ARPA waives federal taxes on the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits received in 2020. If you have already filed your 2020 tax return, you can still file an amended return with the IRS until May 17, 2021.
For those individuals receiving PUA benefits, there have also been some new requirements added to the PUA system as of January 2021. New PUA applicants must document their employment or self-employment within 21 days after the date they receive notification of their responsibilities. Those people who already applied for benefits before January 31, 2021 must document their employment or self-employment within 90 days of the date of notification. There are several permissible ways to document employment or self-employment, including W-2 forms, paycheck stubs, employer identification numbers, tax returns, business licenses, and business receipts. If you do not document your employment or self-employment within the required deadline, you may be charged with an overpayment for weeks of unemployment ending on or after December 27, 2020 unless you can show that you had good cause for missing the deadline. As a precaution against fraud, PUA claims filed after January 26, 2021 also require individuals to verify their identities by uploading photo identification to the unemployment system. If your identity was previously verified on a state unemployment compensation claim, an extended benefit claim or a PEUC claim, you do not have to verify your identity again.
While the new federal legislation has provided a crucial extension of benefits for workers in Ohio, there are still some inherent cracks in the overburdened unemployment structure. Many unemployment claimants continue to experience problems with accessing the system, having benefits frozen due to identity verification problems, incurring overpayments due to administrative or employer error, and being wrongly denied benefits. Other claimants have trouble understanding notices and can't reach anyone at the unemployment office to discuss their questions. If you have questions about your unemployment benefits or think you may need legal representation at a hearing, you can contact our legal aid line for assistance at 888-534-1432 or online at legalaidline.org.