Students and the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program

Students and the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program

  • College students could tap into $600-$800 a week of unemployment benefits
  • College students could claim unemployment benefits for losing their summer internships, part-time jobs, and work-study opportunities
  • Unemployment benefits are retroactive until January 27, 2020, making it possible for students to claim money for the last four months
  • Applications are accepted by your state of residence and listed below

Filing for unemployment as a student isn’t easy.

In fact, most students haven’t worked long enough to qualify for unemployment benefits, and in addition to that, many states don’t consider part-time employment eligible. The traditional set-up of unemployment insurance, which is a benefit paid for by both federal and state governments, generally doesn’t offer much in the way of student benefits.

But all that is about to change with students potentially getting $600-$800 a week in unemployment benefits. Here’s how you can make it happen.

Can a College Student Apply for Unemployment Benefits? 

When it comes to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the unemployment rates, students can take a massive hit to their income thanks to job loss. Traditionally, this would leave them suffering with little support from the unemployment office. However, the change to unemployment benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic means that students might be able to apply and qualify for benefits for the first time. 

With so many different stimulus benefits out there, it can be overwhelming to understand what you’re eligible to receive and what you’re not. But if you’re a student who recently lost your job or had your hours reduced, you might qualify for unemployment benefits due to the COVID-19 unemployment benefit changes.

What are some reasons that a college student might be eligible for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program?

  • Your internship offer was pulled
  • You got a job offer but it was canceled after the pandemic started
  • You usually work a summer job but won’t be able to this year
  • You work part-time

Learn more about the PUA program below.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program

As part of the stimulus package put in place to assist the U.S. economy, the government expanded unemployment benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. This program temporarily expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to those who otherwise wouldn’t be eligible, such as the self-employed, part-time employees, and even individuals with limited work history — such as students. 

The expansion of this program means that many students may be eligible for unemployment insurance — and if you are, it’s likely it’s a lot more than you would have gotten in the past. In addition to the plethora of workers now eligible for unemployment insurance, there’s also a temporary hike in benefit payouts.

The federal government is adding $600 to what the standard state payout will be. That’s a hefty amount for students and individuals who’ve suffered job loss and one that helps immensely in the current economic climate.

Here’s what you need to know about applying for and receiving unemployment benefits. 

How to Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

If you’re wondering how to apply for unemployment benefits, it’s easy to get started. You’ll need to file a claim through your state unemployment insurance program. The good news is, if you’re just finding out about these benefits, most states will generally allow you to file for back pay of benefits through January 27th, 2020.

Your state website should walk you through the eligibility process for a PUA unemployment claim. You can find a direct link to your state office below:





























New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota







West Virginia



Do You Qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Claims?

Who is eligible for unemployment benefits? Anyone that meets the below criteria: 

  • You’ve suffered a job loss or reduced hours involuntarily (that means you didn’t quit of your own free will)
  • You’ve stopped working for “good cause” typically domestic violence, unsafe work environment, or serious illness

Expanded eligibility due to the CARES Act and the COVID-19 pandemic include

Additionally, if you were expected to start a job before the pandemic and that offer was rescinded, you should apply for unemployment benefits. You’ll likely qualify if you have an offer letter as proof of your future employment in some states. 

Who Should Apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

Everyone. Even if you’re unsure if you’re eligible, you should fill out a PUA unemployment application. The unemployment office will let you know whether you qualify, so there’s no harm in submitting an application.

The best-case scenario is you’re eligible for COVID-19 unemployment benefits even if you don’t think you are, and you get money back in your pocket to help you or your family with much-needed expenses. 

How Much Money Do You Get On PUA Unemployment?

The amount varies depending on which state you live in. The national average is $190 per week, plus the $600 that the federal government is applying due to the pandemic. That means your payout could be close to $800 per week or more, depending on your state.

The additional $600 is only eligible for benefits beginning on April 5th through late July. 

Will unemployment benefits be extended? There is the possibility the federal government will extend the benefit

Are unemployment benefits taxed? Yes, unemployment benefits are taxed like your regular income, however, medicaid and social security are not included.

How Long Can I Collect PUA Unemployment Benefits?

You can collect unemployment for up to 39 weeks or for the time you expected to be employed (ex. if you planned to work six weeks as a lifeguard, you can only collect those six weeks). 

You have to make sure to log in weekly and fill out the information your state requires to process your weekly pay. Failing to do so could mean a missed payment or end your benefits. 

What About Back PUA Unemployment Benefits? How Do Those Work? 

You can get retroactive payments until January 27th, 2020. However, you should know that the additional COVID-19 unemployment amount of $600 only kicked in on April 5th, 2020. So you will not see the $600 unemployment payment for the weeks before that date. 

Still, if you’ve been unemployed since January, it’s worth trying to get those back payments as any little bit helps. 

Many students saw their worlds turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. From schools closing to job loss, it’s been a tough time with little payout to students. Arming yourself with the information you need to get the financial support you deserve is essential. Learn about the Emergency Grants available through the CARES Act and apply for unemployment — you deserve the financial support.