California’s self-employed workers and independent contractors who have seen their income slashed due to COVID-19 will finally have the chance to apply for federal relief — but not until the end of April.
California Labor Secretary Julie Su said the state’s Employment Development Department would create a one-stop website for these non-traditional workers, including some gig-economy and part-time workers, to apply for funds through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or PUA.
“We need two weeks to create this new technology — set up the system, test it and be able to turn payments around,” Su wrote in an open letter to Californians on Tuesday. “This new system will be able to pay individuals within 24 to 48 hours of their application.”
Su’s letter did not give an exact date, but two weeks translates to around April 28, just days before millions of out-of-work Californians must make their second rent or mortgage payment since the pandemic hit.
For Mike Hansen, a self-employed DJ in San Diego who’s had all of his gigs cancelled for April, the announcement offers a bit of hope.
“Maybe some light at the end of the tunnel for some, but this is taking (EDD) a painfully long time to implement,” he added.
Once open, the portal will allow people to apply for $600 per week in benefits for the time they are unemployed spanning March 29 through the end of July. On top of that, these workers — many of whom traditionally have not qualified for assistance when they lose work — are also eligible for half their state’s weekly average unemployment insurance payment, which in California is $333.
In her Letter, Su said the second portion of the PUA benefits is retroactive and lasts longer. It covers people unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19 from January 27 through December 31 depending on the date of actual impact.
“The retroactivity means more money in people’s pockets and we are anxious to get that out,” she wrote.
The PUA is part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed by President Trump in late March.
Gov. Gavin Newsom this week said an estimated 2.7 million Californians have filed for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus crisis. Many workers have complained about long delays just getting through to EDD as the number of filings has surged.
To address those concerns, Newsom signed an executive order on Wednesday to expand the agency’s call center hours. Starting Monday, EDD will launch a new call center that will operate 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Currently, EDD’s phone lines are only staffed four hours each morning Monday through Friday.
“Many Californians are one paycheck away from losing their homes or from being able to put food on their tables, and COVID-19 has only made these challenges worse,” Newsom said in a news release Wednesday. “California is focused on getting relief dollars and unemployment assistance in the hands of those who need it as quickly as possible.”
Traditional payroll employees who have lost income due to the outbreak are also eligible for the PUA program. Those already receiving state unemployment were expected to get the extra $600 on top of their weekly amount starting this week.
The state has redirected hundreds of EDD staff members to focus on its Unemployment Insurance program, Su added. It is also training an additional 300 workers from across state government to increase capacity.
Statewide, there are an estimated 2 million self-employed people and 3.4 million who work part-time, according to figures compiled by the office of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Millions more work in the gig economy as delivery and rideshare drivers, freelance writers and musicians.
Earlier this month, EDD created a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance web page that it says will update its “around-the-clock effort to build this new program from the CARES Act.”
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