Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

New Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Now Available in the District

Update (5/1/20): Currently, workers can only apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) by using the District’s website. The District is not able to accept phone applications for PUA and is not yet offering an online application for non-English speakers. Legal Aid is advocating for the District to make the PUA application accessible for everyone, and Legal Aid lawyers are helping workers who have a hard time accessing the PUA application. Anyone seeking Legal Aid’s assistance can contact us at (202) 628-1161.

As of April 24, 2020, thousands of D.C. workers who have been historically excluded from standard unemployment benefits can now apply for and receive benefits if they can prove a COVID-19 related job loss or reduction in income. This expansion to unemployment benefits, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), covers:

  • Gig-workers (Lyft, Uber, etc),
  • Self-employed workers,
  • Workers who earn too little to normally qualify for unemployment, and
  • Any workers unavailable for work due to COVID-19 (such as primary caretakers of daycare or school-aged children who cannot work due to childcare responsibilities).

D.C. workers have been hit hard by COVID-19, with many struggling to pay bills and afford basic groceries. The new PUA benefits are substantial. D.C. workers who qualify will receive a minimum of $780/week through the end of July 2020 (followed by a minimum of $180/week through the end of December 2020). Workers who qualify for PUA will receive this money even if this benefit more than replaces their lost income. To qualify, they will need to provide proof to the D.C. Department of Employment Services of (1) past income or wages (if any), and (2) COVID-19 related job loss, loss of earnings, or unavailability for work.

Workers who may be eligible should apply online immediately by logging into the District’s website and selecting “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” on the drop-down menu in the last application question about “separation” from work. After completing an initial claim for UI — and getting denied, which is supposed to happen — the worker should then file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Further instructions on applying for PUA can be found here. The unemployment website works best with Internet Explorer.

The District should be commended for moving quickly to create an entire benefit eligibility and administration system from scratch. Nevertheless, the PUA application and roll-out have been less than smooth, and Legal Aid is advocating for the District to improve the application system to make it more user-friendly, particularly for workers with Limited English Proficiency, workers without access to home computers and workers with limited cell phone access.

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