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Unemployment benefits expanded, but jobless workers unable to apply

Independent contractors, gig workers wait for answers
Unemployment rates for less-educated Americans at record low
Posted at 5:30 AM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 17:30:26-04

BALTIMORE — While jobless workers rush to file for unemployment insurance, there's a group of individuals left in limbo.

Self-employed, independent contractors, and gig workers have been unable to file a claim even though the federal government expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act.

Because this subsection doesn't typically receive benefits, the Maryland Department of Labor said their IT systems need to be set-up to process these claims so the state can be reimbursed by the government.

Last week, the Maryland Secretary of Labor said they were still waiting on guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on what information they'll need to collect. On Sunday, guidance was provided on two of the three unemployment insurance programs created by the CARES Act.

"Our teams are having meetings all day today about implementation. I don't have an update about the implementation timeline yet, but hope to soon," wrote Fallon Pearre, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Department of Labor, in an email to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.

This delay has caused frustration, especially for Darlene Arlette Matter-Rains who had to shut down her hair salon, Passions Beauty Boutique, after Governor Larry Hogan enacted an emergency order closing non-essential businesses.

"She’s been out of work now for three weeks with zero income coming in," said Brandon Matter, Darlene's son.

Matter-Rains opened the business a little under a year ago. Now that they're approaching their first anniversary, all of their progress has been wiped out.

"We were just starting to kind of get out of the red zone," said Matter-Rains.

Matter-Rains was considering filing a claim for unemployment insurance but was concerned it could disqualify her from small business relief programs.

"Ultimately, what I’m calling a fork in the road. I feel like they’re forcing us to choose what one might say life or a business," said Brandon Matter.

On Tuesday, Pearre clarified that sole proprietors may receive unemployment insurance benefits and proceeds from the Paycheck Protection Program as long as they're not using the loan to make payroll for themselves.

"If the self-employed claimant is using the SBA loan for other operating costs (rent, interest on mortgages, salaries of his employees and not himself), then the self-employed could be eligible for benefits," she wrote.

WMAR-2 News is still waiting for information on whether sole proprietors can receive unemployment insurance benefits and funds from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance grant.

Financial assistance options:
There are two main loan programs through the SBA: Economic injury disaster loans and the Paycheck Protection Program.

Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) includes an emergency grant of up to $10,000 to be issued within three days of your application done directly through the SBA's website.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) requires you go through a lender such as a bank, credit union, or some online lenders and is aimed at keeping workers on the payroll.

Both programs offer loan forgiveness but require the funds to be used on business expenses.

Aside from unemployment insurance, independent contractors who meet the income requirements will qualify for economic relief payments from the IRS; up to $1,200 for individuals, and $2,400 for couples.

RELATED: Relief checks: How much you'll get, when, and how scammers plan to target you

Darlene and Brandon are trying to stay positive, but it’s been frustrating not getting answers on when they can start paying their bills, and how to save their business.

"I mean we are hopeful. We’re praying daily that some kind of answers are made, we’re given some kind of relief, to give hope to our customers and our clients and our employees that we will have a place to do business once this passes," said Matter.

If you still haven’t been able to file for unemployment insurance, benefits will be backdated to the day you became eligible. Maryland Secretary of Labor TIffany Robinson said the state's trust fund is healthy and the U.S. Department of Labor is offering federal loans if they need to replenish.

They've extended the Unemployment Insurance Claim Center hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and are asking applicants to stagger when they call by the first letter of their last name.

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