U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance, John Cornyn (R-Texas), also a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, today introduced the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Eligibility Clarification Act. This legislation would require the Department of Labor (DOL) to rescind its recently issued guidance expanding PUA eligibility beyond statutory intent and revoke DOL’s ability to establish new eligibility criteria.
“As Americans continue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and as businesses reopen to full capacity, we must ensure that individuals being provided the opportunity to return to the workforce are getting back to work,” said Thune. “By rescinding this guidance, this bill would ensure that states can continue to implement their own return-to-work requirements, which South Dakota has done effectively throughout the pandemic, yet allow state workforce agencies to continue to provide PUA compensation to those individuals who truly require the assistance.”
“Expanding the PUA program to individuals who had been receiving regular unemployment compensation takes away from those who need these benefits the most, and allows individuals to game the system and refuse to return to safe workplaces,” said Crapo. “This legislation will protect the program’s integrity and ensure states can continue to enforce their own return-to-work requirements.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Texans especially hard, and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program has been a lifeline for so many,” said Cornyn. “This bill will ensure these critical funds are going to those who need them the most and prevent fraud from slowing down the distribution of benefits, and I'm proud to join my colleagues to help Texans in dire financial straits in a responsible manner.”
On February 25, 2021, DOL issued guidance that allows individuals receiving regular unemployment compensation to become eligible for PUA if they refuse an offer to work or return to work because of certain health concerns. As outlined in this letter to DOL, this guidance expands PUA eligibility beyond congressional intent, as it was established to provide unemployment compensation to those not traditionally eligible for unemployment assistance (i.e., independent contractors, sole proprietors, and the self-employed). In addition, the guidance requires state workforce agencies to apply these new eligibility criteria retroactively back to the creation of the PUA program in March 2020, which is overly burdensome and will make it more challenging for state workforce agencies to make timely payments to legitimate PUA claimants. It also allows individuals to qualify for PUA if they merely self-certify that their potential worksite is unsafe, which will undoubtedly increase fraud in the PUA program.
The PUA Eligibility Clarification Act would ensure that anyone who received PUA benefits under the February 25, 2021, guidance does not need to repay those amounts.