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COVID-19

For the self-employed, a confusing path to benefits as they lose income to COVID-19

Mitchell Hartman Apr 21, 2020
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Self-employed workers are eligible for new federal pandemic unemployment benefits, but some have not yet been able to apply. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
COVID-19

For the self-employed, a confusing path to benefits as they lose income to COVID-19

Mitchell Hartman Apr 21, 2020
Self-employed workers are eligible for new federal pandemic unemployment benefits, but some have not yet been able to apply. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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Update: For many states, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for which the self-employed now qualify through the end of July, is still unavailable.

Per Vox: “Washington, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Alabama are among the states already accepting PUA applications, but many other states haven’t yet announced the dates for when they’ll have their program set up and ready for workers to file.

The best way to find out how to apply for your state’s PUA program — what the status of it is — is to visit your state’s unemployment website.


For self-employed workers, the path to getting benefits for lost work due to the COVID-19 pandemic is especially confusing. This includes people who receive income reported on federal 1099 forms, independent contractors, freelancers, gig workers — and sole proprietors who are themselves their one and only employee.

Brooke Wetzel runs her own florist business in Los Angeles. She works alone, and since mid-March she’s had no orders and no income. She’s been looking for help from federal and state programs.

“The information’s super-confusing,” Wetzel said. “We apply for this, we don’t qualify for this or that.”

She applied for unemployment, but received a letter in the mail that said her “award was zero.”

Self-employed workers are eligible for new federal pandemic unemployment benefits, but California’s website says people can’t apply until later this month.

Congress’ Paycheck Protection Program is providing small business loans that can be forgiven if the money’s used to keep paying employees.

That program ran out of money last week. But Katie Vlietstra at the National Association for the Self-Employed says if the Paycheck Protection Program funded again, self-employed people will be eligible.

“If you’re using it for payroll and ancillary expenses, it will be forgiven,” Vlietstra said.

But, she adds, business owners should document every penny they spend on salary and expenses, just in case.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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