Pandemic unemployment benefits were underpaid in most states, government watchdog finds

The majority of states have underpaid unemployed Americans who rely on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program by not matching their benefits with wages. These workers are entitled to what they missed, a government guard said Monday.
"The majority of states have paid PUA applicants the minimum allowable benefit instead of what they are entitled to based on previous earnings," the Government Accountability Office wrote in a report. "States should pay the difference between the amount previously paid and the amount owed for all weeks of unemployment that an individual files during the period of pandemic aid."
Currently, more than 9 million of the 20 million workers who receive unemployment benefits rely on PUA, a program available to gig workers, contractors and the self-employed.
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According to the PUA established by the CARES law, states were initially allowed to approve persons for the minimum unemployment benefit. However, states are expected to recalculate the amount of benefit based on a person's actual income, provided documentation is provided, and repay the difference in accordance with Department of Unemployment Assistance regulations.
A view of the line as Food Bank for New York City is handing out Thanksgiving meals to the Food Bank Community Kitchen on November 25, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for the Food Bank for New York City)
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Twenty-seven of the 41 states in the report paid within 25% of the minimum benefit amount, while 10 states paid within 10% of the minimum amount. This means that many workers in these states receive the minimum benefit as the average is close to the minimum, according to the report.
The average benefits paid in September ranged from $ 114 to about $ 357 per week, compared with an average of $ 181 to about $ 466 per week for unemployed people with regular unemployment insurance benefits.
"Half of the people currently receiving a benefit get PUAs," Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project, told Yahoo Money. “Even if 15 million people lost $ 1, that's $ 15 million. Add that that's probably a lot more than $ 1 for humans. "
"States should pay the difference"
Based on instructions from the Department of Labor, states must recalculate weekly benefits immediately upon receipt of "adequate wage documentation" from the recipient.
Read more: How to apply for unemployment insurance
California is one of the states that recalculates benefit payments based on the applicant's annual income for 2019. According to his department for employment development, the wage difference applies “retrospectively for all weeks”.
Both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) and the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program (PEUC) expire on December 26, unless Congress enters into a business cycle agreement.
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“The states are trying to make the new regulations. It's a lot to create a state, ”said Evermore. "Hopefully this report will help them move ahead faster to find a more appropriate weekly benefit amount."
The PUA program, together with the PEUC (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) program, will expire on December 26th. Up to 12 million Americans have no unemployment benefits unless Congress passes another stimulus package.
Yahoo Money's sister site, Cashay, has a weekly newsletter.
Denitsa is a writer for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.
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Stock market highs, booming real estate, and millions of unemployed: A story of two Americas amid the coronavirus pandemic
Up to 15 million Americans face a devastating loss of pandemic incentives "the day after Christmas".
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