New unemployment benefits available for gig workers, self-employed

New unemployment benefits available for gig workers, self-employed

BOSTON — After 32 years of carpentry, COVID-19 has halted husband and father Brian Killea’s income.

“It’s been difficult,” said Killea. “It’s gone to zero basically, we have mortgage and bills. It’s a lot easier to spend it than it is to earn it.”

Contractors like Killea are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, but starting Monday can apply for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

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“They don’t actually contribute to the existing unemployment system,” said Governor Baker. “So they do not exist anywhere in our records so we built a platform to make it possible for those folks.”

Self-employed or gig economy workers clocking fewer hours or those with limited work history can qualify for up to 39 weeks of benefits.

CEO of OperationsInc David Lewis said the aid is crucial to keeping the economy going.

“The nature of the work that they perform is just not work that is right now in demand and could be out of demand for some period of time depending on how long it takes us to get back to you whatever normal looks like,” said Lewis.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of workers across the Commonwealth, and our administration is doing everything we can to help,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “The implementation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program in Massachusetts is another important step in our efforts to help those who are economically disrupted by this virus.”

To be eligible for this new program, individuals must provide self-certification that they are otherwise able and available to work but are prevented from doing so by circumstances relating to COVID-19, including their own illness or that of a family member.

“It is vital that our workforce gets the resources and help they need during this critical time,” said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta. “I’m proud of everything our team is doing to rapidly implement new programs and ensure that as many eligible workers as possible get some relief.”

The federal CARES Act signed into law on March 27 created PUA, as well as another temporary federal program called Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) that provides an additional $600 weekly benefit for those receiving unemployment benefits or PUA. FPUC provides that additional benefit through July 25, 2020. The Commonwealth announced implementation of FPUC earlier this month.

“People have literally been working 24/7 since the CARES Act was passed to create this platform. It has all of the safeguards and checkpoints it needs to have to make sure that it has integrity and has a call center stood up to deal with people who have questions,” said Governor Baker.

All approved PUA applications will initially receive the minimum weekly benefit amount, plus the additional $600 FPUC weekly benefit. Once a worker’s wages are verified, weekly benefit amounts may increase. The amount of PUA benefits received is based on the individual’s reported previous income. PUA benefits may not be more than the state's maximum weekly benefit rate for regular unemployment, which is $823 in Massachusetts.

“Sounds a lot better than zero dollars a week,” said Killea. “The Payroll Protection Plan, they said they are out of money. They are not accepting any more applications, so this is good news.”

Weekly benefits, including any increase to your weekly benefit amount, will be retroactive to January 27, 2020, or the date when you became unemployed, whichever is more recent, as long as you became unable to work because of a COVID-19 related reason.

To apply, individuals must provide their Social Security number or US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) number if not a citizen of the United States, and their wage records for 2019, which includes 1099 forms, pay stubs, or bank statements. Applicants will also need the Social Security numbers and dates of birth for dependent children and, if requesting direct deposit for payment, your bank account and routing numbers. A full list of required documents is available at www.mass.gov/pua.

Please note that, initially, the system can only pay benefits retroactively to the week ending March 14, 2020. Beginning on April 30, 2020, eligible workers will be able to certify for benefits, and will be able to request benefits retroactively to January 27, 2020, if their dates of unemployment make them eligible.

Individuals who are determined ineligible for PUA will receive a written disqualification along with information on how to pursue an appeal. Additional information about the appeals process will be separately posted at a later date. Please visit www.mass.gov/dua for the latest information.

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