Allegheny County

What you need to know about collecting unemployment if you are self-employed

PITTSBURGH — If you are self-employed you are probably looking to apply for unemployment benefits. Under the Federal CARES ACT you may file, but Pennsylvania officials said the website is not up and ready yet.

“You’re not going to get any money if you can get a hold of them to apply for anything,” said Patrick Coburn, of Mt. Lebanon.

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Frustrated, and looking for answers; that’s how thousands of people who are self-employed, contract workers or people with gig economy jobs are feeling. Benefits for those people are still weeks away as the state must build a different platform for those claims.

Patrick Coburn owns his own company, Patnic Construction and is a self-employed construction worker. He said he's been checking the unemployment website on when he can apply every day for the last three weeks.

“[I’m] frustrated and I am getting really nervous because eventually the money is going to be gone, then what am I going to do then?” said Coburn.

Usually self-employed and seasonal workers are ineligible for unemployment but under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program workers will qualify. The delay comes because the federal Department of Labor is requiring these claims to be tracked separately than regular claims.

“We’re working with a contractor to get the program up and running,” said Dept. of Labor and Industry, Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy director Susan Dickinson. “We want people to be able to file their claims within two weeks.”

Dickinson said they expect the biweekly filing to be up a couple weeks after, adding those people should not apply on the regular unemployment website. Their claim will be denied and clog the system which 1.3 million people have applied for.

“Please do not file a regular claim right now because it’s going to be a completely separate application,” she said.

If you’re looking to get that extra $600 a week, which is available to both types of unemployment claims; regular and PUA. Dickinson said it will come later.

“Just file normally, you’re going to get paid normally with your regular benefits then you will receive your FPUC benefits about one week later,” she said.

The Dept. of Labor said it is seeing record numbers of people applying. The advise is to check the Pennsylvania PUA website for the answer to your question and if you still need help be patient. The department said Monday and Tuesdays are their busiest days and there have been more than 25,000 calls and emails a day.

Who can qualify for PUA?

The self-employed (independent contractors, seasonal/temporary workers, and workers for certain religious entities), those seeking part-time employment, individuals lacking sufficient work history and those who do not qualify for regular UC or extended benefits. Small business owners may be eligible if their primary source of income is from work done for their own business or farm. A person who has never worked before might be eligible under certain circumstances.

Should I file claim on the Deptartment of Labor website now?

No. It will be a separate website. Applying is the first step in the process. The Dept. of Labor will provide important updates on the estimated turnaround time from start (filing a claim) to finish (receiving the first PUA payment) as soon as the system is up and running. L&I will announce when PUA benefit applications are being accepted.

How long will PUA last?

PUA provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular UC or extended benefits, including those who have exhausted such benefits. PUA benefits begin Jan. 27, 2020, and will cover weeks of unemployment through Dec. 31, 2020.

How much will I receive if I file for PUA?

The for PUA benefits is based on previous income reported and may not be more than the state’s maximum weekly benefit rate for regular UC, which is $572. All individuals collecting PUA will also receive the extra $600 weekly FPUC payment.

Why is it taking so long to get my benefits?

The U.S. DOL requires all states to track PUA separately from regular UC, so Pennsylvania is obligated to build a new online platform to process these benefits. Eligible individuals should be able to apply for PUA benefits within the next two weeks and claims may be backdated to Jan. 27, 2020.

Learn more on the Pennsylvania PUA website.

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