On August 6, the Maine Department of Labor (DOL) announced that approximately 7,400 unemployment claimants receiving federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) failed to provide retroactive proof of employment by the August 4 deadline and may be required to repay benefits.
On December 27, 2020, former President Trump signed a law that affected eligibility requirements for federal pandemic unemployment assistance. The Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, created new rules requiring those filing for PUA benefits to provide proof they were employed, self-employed or had plans to become employed or self-employed that fell apart as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, to prove their eligibility for the program.
Individuals who filed a new claim for PUA benefits on or after January 31, 2021 were required to provide proof of employment within 21 days of applying, or within 21 days of receiving notice from a state agency of the need to submit documentation, whichever date is later.
Individuals who were receiving PUA benefits prior to January 3, 2021 and received benefits before December 27, 2020 had 90 days from either the date they applied for benefits to submit proof of employment, or 90 days after they were notified by a state agency of the need to submit documentation, whichever date was later.
To provide proof of employment, applicants can submit paycheck stubs, earnings and leavings statements that include an employer’s name and address, or W-2 forms. To provide proof of self-employment, applicants can submit state or federal employer identification numbers, business licenses or receipts, tax returns, or signed affidavits that verify the claimant is self-employed.
The Maine DOL provided both written and electronic notice to claimants who were required to provide proof of employment in early May. The 90-day period to provide proof of prior employment expired on August 4.
Anyone who received notice that their claim has been denied because they failed to provide documentation can appeal the decision within 15 days of receiving notice to appeal.
A judgment that an individual wrongly received PUA benefits would mean the individual must pay back any money they received through the PUA program, but also any benefits they received through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) program.
The PUC program, which provides a $300 weekly supplement benefit, had expired on July 31, 2020, but was reauthorized under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
The state agency which dispensed payments to ineligible individuals is responsible for recovering funds. Under the law, that means the Maine DOL is responsible for collecting funds paid out to ineligible recipients.
The Maine DOL did not respond to a request for comment about what the process of recovering funds will look like or about the amount of money it estimates will need to be recovered.
But, according to the law passed by Congress, anyone who obtained PUA benefits to which they are not entitled as a result of false statements or representations, or because they failed to disclose facts which would have made them ineligible to receive benefits, is ineligible to receive further unemployment compensation and may be subject to federal prosecution.
The Maine DOL did not respond to a request for comment about whether individuals who did not provide proof of employment will face penalties beyond repaying benefits they were not eligible to receive.