The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major public health crisis as well as significant economic disruption.
In response, both federal and state governments have enacted an unprecedented amount of legislation in the past two years to help manage and mitigate the health and economic burden individuals and businesses are now facing. The legislation was expansive in size and scope, and in turn, implementation of the legislation has proven complex and controversial, to say the least.
A major element of the federal government’s response to unemployment during the pandemic was unemployment insurance.
In March 2020 the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Act, in part, expanded states’ ability to provide Unemployment Insurance (UI) to millions of Americans who were out of work for reasons related to the pandemic. More specifically, it extended unemployment benefits to independent contractors and other workers who typically were ineligible for other unemployment benefits. Though applying for general unemployment was still an option for Montanans, the state, through the Department of Labor and Industry, Unemployment Division, began providing three primary expansions to UI:
(1) Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA),
(2) Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
(3) Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC).
The distinction between the three is now immaterial because Montana stopped offering benefits under these programs in June 2021. However, prior to June 2021, Montana employees, independent contractors, and some self-employed individuals were left confused as to which program they should apply while others applied and qualified for benefits under one only to learn later they had applied for the wrong program and now owed money back to the state.
The good news?
Some individuals have successfully worked with the Department of Labor and Industry to resolve these claims of overpayment and retain their benefits. In other words, some employees who have been able to show that they qualified under one of the programs have obtained redeterminations for alleged overpayment from the state.
Navigating UI benefits can be complicated under the best of circumstances, but we’re living in unprecedented times where legislation and policies are dynamic, on a state and federal level. There are personal, legal, and professional decisions each individual needs to consider when applying and/or appealing UI decisions.
The most up-to-date information on this matter in Montana can be found on Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry, Unemployment Division’s website.