Tag Archives: unemployment

For the Self-Employed the CARES Act Could Provide Too Much Liquidity: Simultaneous PPP and Unemployment Payments

Self-employed individuals may find themselves in a difficult situation because they have simultaneously received Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan and Unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The CARES Act was enacted this past March with a primary goal of combating COVID-19-related shutdowns and layoffs. It made state unemployment insurance (plus an additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020) (“Unemployment”) available to self-employed individuals, among others, and offers that same group a forgivable PPP loan for their suffering businesses. Faced with the menu of liquidity and uncertainty within the CARES Act, many self-employed individuals immediately applied for both Unemployment and a PPP loan. The question they now face is whether receiving both benefits at the same time is permissible.

The Tension Between The PPP and Unemployment Benefits

While there is no explicit authority in the CARES Act prohibiting the simultaneous receipt of both PPP loan and Unemployment monies, keeping both is risky at best and could potentially be viewed as fraudulent at worst. This is because the receipt of one goes against the purpose and spirit of the other. Looking first at the PPP, its very goal is to allow businesses to keep their employee or employees on the payroll. In other words, the applicant needs the money to keep its business going and pay salaries and wages. It logically follows that a self-employed individual who receives a PPP loan is therefore considered fully employed, at least until the funds run dry.

On the other hand, an individual is only eligible for Unemployment benefits with respect to the CARES Act, where they become totally or partially unemployed (or furloughed) due to COVID-related reasons. These monies serve only as a bridge across gaps in employment. A recipient is therefore very arguably ineligible for Unemployment benefits where compensated work is made possible by PPP funds. This is to be distinguished from a situation where a self-employed individual received necessary Unemployment while waiting for PPP loan approval and disbursement or following the depletion of the PPP loan if it came first.  

Potential Consequences

Continuing to take Unemployment while benefiting from a PPP loan could potentially be, or appear to be, a fraudulent situation. The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has made clear that all states, including Florida, are to exercise due diligence to detect fraud and assess the accuracy of payments to eligible claimants. The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) is also prosecuting PPP loan fraud under federal civil and criminal statutes and has been vocal about the consequences of failing to return unnecessary PPP funds. Most individuals who have simultaneously received or are currently receiving monies from both programs are well-intentioned and unknowing recipients, but this may not save them from an accusation of wrongdoing and/or having to go through state or federal administrative proceedings.

Finally, even assuming one could carefully segregate their PPP funds for their business from their Unemployment, using only the Unemployment monies to pay themselves a salary and the PPP to pay all other eligible business expenses, the risk of losing eligibility for full or substantial loan forgiveness remains. At least 60 percent (previously 75 percent) of the PPP loan must be spent on payroll expenses (i.e., wages) to qualify for full loan forgiveness. When comparing the size of most PPP loans to Unemployment payment amounts, the importance of avoiding this risk becomes obvious. It also remains unclear whether such segregation of simultaneous benefits is possible.

Based on the foregoing, self-employed individuals who have received both PPP and Unemployment benefits to review their payouts for any overlap of funds and check with their legal/financial advisors on the best course of action in the event of any overlap.

Unemployment Provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

As businesses in Florida make decisions on how to move forward during the COVID-19 public health emergency, many businesses are weighing the effects of a layoff or furlough on their employees’ ability to secure unemployment benefits. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act—which was signed into law the afternoon of March 27, 2020—includes provisions that address these issues. These provisions are referred to as the Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act.

Before addressing how the CARES Act may temporarily affect unemployment, it is important to understand what steps the State of Florida has already taken. At this stage, Florida has temporary made individuals who have a COVID-19-related unemployment situation eligible for reemployment assistance (the name Florida gives to unemployment benefits). Specifically, under current Florida guidance, the following persons are currently eligible for COVID-19 unemployment benefits:

  • People ordered to quarantine by a medical professional
  • Those laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19
  • Those caring for an immediate family member with the virus.

The CARES Act will expand these benefits—presuming, of course, that Florida enters into an agreement with the federal government. Such an agreement is required for each provision in the CARES Act related to unemployment.

If Florida agrees and participates in the expended benefits, below is general summary of what will be available to those whose work has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus:

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation: provides an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits on top of the maximum benefits an individual may receive (state provided benefits + Pandemic Unemployment Compensation = Total Benefits). These benefits are available to those whose lack of work is tied to COVID-19 up through July 31, 2020.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: provides for financial assistance for gig workers, the self employed and contract workers typically not eligible for benefits.

  • Applies to those not eligible for regular benefits, including those that have already exhausted rights to regular or extended benefits, provided that they meet certain criteria – i.e. a need related to COVID-19.
  • It appears that furloughed workers will be eligible for benefits, even while staying on company benefit plans.
  • Does not include those that have the ability to telework with pay or are receiving paid leave benefits.
    • Available for loss of pay/income between January 27, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
    • No “waiting period” for benefits.
    • Benefits shall not exceed 39 weeks total benefits under this or any other unemployment provision, unless extended benefits are provided.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation: provides an additional 13 weeks on top of states’ standard limits for employees meeting specific criteria (lack of work due to COVID-19).

  • Florida’s current standard limit for benefits is 12 weeks.
  • Thus, it appears that a total of 25 weeks of eligibility—unless extended benefits apply in which case this benefit should be used before the extended benefit.

Temporary Funding of State One Week Waiting Period: provides that if States waive the requirement of a one week waiting period for benefits, the States will be reimbursement for unemployment compensation payments made for that week.

Temporary Financing of Short-Term Compensation (“STC”) Payments: provides that from the date of enactment until December 21, 2020, States such as Florida will be reimbursed for payments made pursuant to an STC program, if the need for such payments arises from a reduction in hours due to COVID-19 and the works is not employed on a seasonal, temporary, or intermittent basis.

  • STC allows employers to reduce hours of work for employees rather than laying-off some employees while others continue to work full time.
  • Those employees experiencing a reduction in hours are allowed to collect a percentage of their unemployment compensation benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages.
  • Additional information can be found at this website the State of Florida has established:

Williams Parker has launched a multidisciplinary task force of lawyers across the firm to advise on issues arising from COVID-19 and to provide guidance for affected clients. This team is closely monitoring legal developments and guidance from federal, state, and local government and public health officials. For the latest updates, please visit our website.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558

This post was originally published on Williams Parker’s Labor & Employment Blog.