One of every five Pennsylvania workers had filed for unemployment benefits as of mid-April, following a statewide shutdown of most businesses to fight the spread of the coronavirus. But tens of thousands of workers who have taken a financial hit weren’t eligible under the state’s program.

That will soon change as part of the federal $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package.

Gig workers, people who had job offers revoked because of the pandemic, and those without enough work history to apply for traditional unemployment insurance are among the workers who will now be able to access benefits through the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. It will be administered by the state.

There are still some people who will not be eligible for benefits, including undocumented workers and workers in the cash economy. Advocates have been fighting for a local relief fund that will give money to these workers.

» READ MORE: Unprecedented unemployment leaves Pennsylvanians desperate, infuriated: ‘A state of complete collapse’

The online application for the new program opened on April 17 but be patient, as it’s been overwhelmed by demand and has been crashing. Apply here.

If you still have questions, check out the state’s FAQ and Philadelphia Legal Assistance’s primer. You can also tune in to a Facebook chat at 11 a.m. Friday with unemployment insurance expert Julia Simon-Mishel, an attorney with Philadelphia Legal Assistance.

Here’s what else you need to know.

Who’s eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?

The program covers several types of workers who have lost income because of the coronavirus shutdowns but aren’t eligible for traditional unemployment benefits. Read through our explainer on state unemployment benefits to see if you’re eligible for the pre-existing program.

Workers who are eligible for the new program include:

  • Gig workers, like rideshare drivers and food-delivery couriers.

  • People who had job offers revoked or delayed because of the coronavirus.

  • Those without enough work history to be eligible for traditional unemployment insurance (if you did not work before October 2019).

  • Self-employed workers like hair stylists, painters, and house cleaners.

  • Those employed (or formerly employed) by religious organizations, which are exempt from paying toward unemployment insurance.

» READ MORE: Unemployment benefits in Pa. during the coronavirus pandemic: How to apply and who is eligible

You could also be eligible if you’ve lost work because:

  • You or a member of your family has been diagnosed with or has symptoms of the coronavirus and you’re quarantining.

  • You have to care for a child who is staying at home because of school closures.

  • You can’t get to your job because of a stay-at-home order.

  • You became the breadwinner of your household because of a coronavirus-related death.

Here is a bigger list of situations that could make you eligible for this new unemployment program.

» READ MORE: My employer says I have to work during coronavirus. What are my rights?

What kind of documents do I need to apply?

You’ll have to show proof of employment and income, which you can do through documents like tax returns, bank receipts, pay stubs, or invoices. Simon-Mishel said you could likely even use a Venmo transaction history plus a calendar showing appointments.

If you lost a job offer because of the coronavirus, you’ll need to show proof of that offer.

Going forward, it’s not clear yet what documentation you will need to file bi-weekly claims, Simon-Mishel said.

» READ MORE: Layoffs vs. furloughs: What’s the difference and what does it mean for unemployment benefits in Pa.?

I started losing work in March. Can I get benefits for those weeks?

Yes. Even though you’re going to file at the end of April or in early May when the application opens, you can get paid retroactively. You can submit claims going as far back as Jan. 27 for coronavirus-related reasons.

Can I still get that extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits?

Yes. The federal government’s stimulus package is upping unemployment benefits through the end of July, and anyone who gets benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is eligible for those.

How long will I get benefits for?

You can get benefits for up to 39 weeks through this program, and it will run through Dec. 25, 2020.

» READ MORE: Why the gig workers delivering your groceries and beer don’t have any labor rights

How much will I get?

It depends on your previous earning history. The minimum payment in Pennsylvania is $195 a week. The maximum is $572 a week. That doesn’t count the extra $600 a week you can also get through the stimulus package.

Do I have to be denied regular unemployment benefits before applying for this new program?


I applied in March for traditional unemployment and got denied. What should I do?

It depends why your application was denied, Simon-Mishel said.

If the denial was because you didn’t work that much in 2019 and most of your wages have been earned in 2020, apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

If you got denied because most of your wages were earned in the second half of 2019, re-apply for traditional unemployment. Now that it’s April, the state will be looking at a different window of time to assess your application.

If you got denied because of an error, like some wages you earned were not reported by your employer, appeal. You have to do it within 15 days.

I think I’m being misclassified as an independent contractor. Where should I apply?

If you’re, say, a rideshare driver who believes you’re being misclassified, Simon-Mishel recommended applying for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Normally, Philadelphia Legal Assistance works with those who think they’re being misclassified to appeal traditional unemployment decisions. But since time is of the essence now and there’s a program for independent contractors, Simon-Mishel said they should just apply for it.