Miami Herald: Florida’s gig workers could soon get unemployment benefits

Self-employed workers may soon find some light at the end of the unemployment tunnel.

In an interview, Florida State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez said that he was informed by Jonathan Satter, the newly appointed Secretary of the Florida Department of Management and overseer of the state’s unemployment system, that self-employed and contract workers would be able to apply for unemployment more easily — perhaps as soon as this week.

Though the federal CARES Act is supposed to include gig workers, Florida’s regular unemployment system doesn’t cover them. To get access to the federal dollars under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, independent workers in Florida previously had to apply through Florida’s existing system, await a rejection notice, and then apply for the federal assistance. But Florida’s outdated unemployment website has been overwhelmed, and even getting that rejection has been time-consuming and laborious.

Nationwide, sole proprietorships and their contract employees largely are ineligible for small business loans under the federal Paycheck Protection Program passed in March. Though Congress is planning to expand small business relief, it appears those firms still will be left out in the cold.

Florida announced late last week it would soon set up a system for applying for the PUA funds. Rodriguez says gig workers can expect guidance on how to apply this week.

“I am more optimistic than I was, but that can quickly change,” Rodriguez said, “if we don’t see results immediately.”

Representatives for the Florida DMS and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity did not respond to requests for comment.

Previously, Rodriguez advised sole proprietors to apply quickly in the belief that a worker’s eligibility would be retroactive to the date when he or she first applied, as opposed to when their claim was finally processed. But the eligibility policy is now unclear, he said, and must be determined by Gov. Ron DeSantis. To date, DeSantis has been mum on the subject.

Monday, Florida announced about 650,000 unique unemployment claims were in its system. Because self-employed workers cannot apply for regular unemployment, that figure likely does not include tens of thousands of sole proprietors.

Lisa Wright can’t even say for sure which group she’s part of.

In March, Wright, a software project manager, was laid off from a job at a major hospitality employer. Wright also owns her own consulting company.

Having been a W-2 employee for the hospitality firm, she figured she’d be able to easily file for unemployment. A representative for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity even called her to let her know that her claim appeared to be filed.

But because of issues with the state’s unemployment website, she has been unable to check the status of her claim. Nor has she received any other government funds.

Meanwhile, she has no idea where to begin when it comes to claiming benefits related to her work as a 1099, self-employed worker.

“I have no idea where I stand,” she said.

Jose Luis Gonzalez is — or was — self employed. For the past 15 years, he’s owned a jewelry stand at the iconic Opa-locka flea market. In mid-March, the market was shut down.

He applied for a PPP loan for $10,000, but it didn’t materialize when the $350 billion in PPP loan funds ran out.And, locked out of unemployment, Gonzalez, who must support his elderly mother, now has no active income. He estimates he has about a month of savings left. And then?

“I don’t know,” he said. “What are you supposed to do if there’s no backup?”

View the original article here.

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