Monday, June 1, 2020

Puerto Rico to Receive Federal Emergency Unemployment Funding

By on March 30, 2020

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Weekly Payments to Increase by $600 for 4 Months; Benefits Extended to Dec. 31

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Labor Secretary Briseida Torres Reyes announced Monday the signing of an agreement with the U.S. Labor Department to allow the availability on the island of emergency unemployment benefits contemplated in the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act to deal with the Covid-19 emergency.

As of Monday, the Puerto Rico Labor Department had received 76,928 new unemployment claims since March 16.

Torres said that all that remains to be done is for the federal government to establish the guidelines and processes for the implementation of the benefits, to make them effective and available to workers in Puerto Rico.

Among the legislated benefits is the possibility that self-employed workers could apply for unemployment and an increase in the weekly amount in unemployment benefits eligible employees could receive.  

“These new benefits will enable us to be able to address the totality of workers that require the services of the unemployment program, including independent contractors and the self-employed, which usually are not covered by this program,” the Labor secretary said about the aid included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act (CARES Act) enacted last week. “[They] also cover existing beneficiaries who were about to exhaust their benefits and who may receive an extension of these.”

Among the new unemployment benefits for Puerto Rico is an increase in weekly payments to eligible workers, which will increase by $600 in the next four months, rising from the current $190 to a maximum of $790 a week. Moreover, the federal legislation increases the period for unemployment benefits by 13 weeks, from the current 26 weeks to 31 weeks, until Dec. 31, 2020.

Torres stressed the importance of the creation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which will allow the granting of the same benefits to self-employed workers who request it, and who are not eligible for unemployment benefits in the commonwealth program.  

“The program covers employees of insured employers and, therefore, self-employed workers are not eligible,” she said. “But in the face of this emergency, and it has occurred in other situations such as hurricanes and earthquakes, the federal government has extended the benefits to independent contractors and the self-employed, to help them face the lack of income from their jobs during this period, and whose benefits will be similar to those established for the regular program while the situation lasts.”

The unemployment insurance program is available to all employees, whether full-time or part-time, who work for insured employers that are registered with the Puerto Rico Labor & Human Resources Department. This insurance is triggered when these workers’ income is affected involuntarily, and they do not receive leave compensation and payments. Moreover, employees who continue to render services remotely and getting paid for it, are not eligible for unemployment.

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