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Pandemic unemployment benefits open for self-employed, independent contractors affected by coronavirus

Eligible applicants can get a minimum of $167 per week, plus an extra $600 through the federal CARES Act.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — While many self-employed workers and small business owners were left in a financial lurch during California's stay-at-home order, the state has been working to establish a brand new benefits program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance [PUA].  

The application for PUA opened Tuesday, April 28, addressing the needs of Californians who are self-employed, independent contractors, or who would otherwise not be eligible for regular state benefits. 

These additional unemployment benefits come after an immense wave of applications for the state's regular Unemployment Insurance [UI] as many people were financially hard-hit amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

RELATED: Frustration over EDD’s call center grows despite state efforts to remedy problem

For some time, self-employed workers and independent contractors were receiving UI rejections due to the nature of their application. 

Jennifer Shaw, president of Shaw Law Group in Sacramento, says that there was some initial confusion when it came to those UI rejections.

“They are going to be eligible for the [PUA] benefit because they are not eligible for the regular California benefit, that is the idea,” Shaw said.

As part of the federal CARES Act, those who have recently become unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic can obtain financial aid, even if they don't qualify for regular benefits. An additional $600 will also be available through the federal program for those who are eligible. 

According to the Employment Development Department [EDD], "Once this new complex program is built and staffed, it will likely rival the size of the regular UI program the EDD already administers."

“It’s very important that [workers] apply right away even if they are not approved right away,” Shaw said.

EDD has had difficulties keeping up with the demand as millions of Californians apply for UI and PUA. To combat the sudden rush of applications, EDD has extended hours and added 600 new staff members to handle phones.

RELATED: California's pandemic unemployment program offering same online issues for those seeking help

In addition, there is a new feature on the EDD website: a virtual agent. Now, EDD users can pose a question to this virtual agent and get an instant reply back. 

However, this feature is "a new service" and is "evolving daily," so users are limited to posing frequently asked questions, rather than receiving more sophisticated help. 

Those who are eligible for PUA include:

  • Business owners
  • Self-employed individuals
  • Independent contractors

You also must meet at least one of several broad criteria, of which you can find a list here

If you qualified for regular Unemployment Insurance, but have collected all benefits for which you were eligible, you can also apply for PUA. This allows people who are still experiencing unemployment amid COVID-19 to continue to receive help. 

Secretary Su Update: April 24, 2020

Secretary Su provided an update on the call center, penalty weeks, and the suspension of certifications. For more information watch the video and visit us at labor.ca.gov/coronavirus2019.

Posted by California Labor and Workforce Development Agency on Friday, April 24, 2020

According to Secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency Julie A. Su in a recent Facebook live Q&A, in order to prove your income for PUA purposes, "What we're going to have you do is self-declare your income for the prior tax year, for tax year 2019. So, you will enter in your income, and in order for us to get benefit payments out as quickly as possible, we are going to automatically be paying the 167 dollar per week minimum amount that's provided under PUA."

These benefits can be retroactive to weeks starting on or after February 2, meaning applicants could receive up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits.

RELATED: What happens when unemployment benefits pay more than your job?

The EDD website outlines the timeline for receiving these benefits. Payments will be issued in phases. 

Here is what those phases for initial payment will look like:

  • Phase 1 -$167 per week for each week you were unemployed from February 2, 2020 to March 28, 2020 due to a COVID-19 related reason.
  • Phase 2 - $167 plus $600 per week for each week you were unemployed from March 29, 2020 to July 25, 2020, due to a COVID-19 related reason.
  • Phase 3 - $167 per week, for each week from July 26, 2020 to December 26, 2020, that you are unemployed due to a COVID-19 related reason, up to a total of 39 weeks (minus any weeks of regular UI and certain extended UI benefits that you have received).

You will not need to certify for benefits as a PUA applicant. The EDD website recently issued a statement that "Based on the persistent inability of claimants to access the UI OnlineSM system during this time period, if your UI benefit certification form has dates for weeks ending March 14 through May 9, you do not need to certify or recertify for UI benefits at this time." 

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WATCH MORE: Q&A | Your questions on unemployment, disability, and family leave answered