Making sense of unemployment for hourly workers during COVID-19

The wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has left us all confused and scratching our heads about the CARES Act, Unemployment, paycheck loans, and what to do next. We’ve scoured through the legislature and legalese to make it easy to digest.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the CARES Act. You’ve also probably heard that independent contractors are now able to benefit from it. But if you’re overwhelmed by the bombardment of updates and confusing language coming out each day, you’re not alone.

We’ve tried to distill down the most important information for you. It’s not intended to replace legal advice, and it doesn’t cover every nitty gritty detail, but our hope is that this is a good starting point to help you answer three core questions:

Unemployed in California? Act today to take advantage of the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. As of April 28th, CA EDD is now able to accept unemployment from independent contractors and those that are self-employed. Learn more

  • 1 What am I eligible for?

  • 2 How much can I receive?

  • 3 What do I need to do to get these benefits?

📝 CARES Act

The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27th, 2020. This $2 trillion relief package provides economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses.  

The new Act makes some big changes to unemployment insurance and other financial aid programs, including extending these programs to independent contractors (1099s, gig workers, freelancers) that would not have previously qualified. This means that if you’ve worked hourly for Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Instacart, Shipt, and others, you are now eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Among the many areas that the CARES Act touches, there are three main programs that you should pay attention to: unemployment benefits, the stimulus bill, and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

Unemployment Benefits

These benefits have always existed but the qualification criteria, duration, and amount of financial aid  have expanded in light of COVID-19.

  • If you earned less than $112k annually in 2018 or 2019, you may be eligible.

Stimulus Check

The new stimulus bill sets aside money for an additional one-time check to those earning under a certain threshold (not just for the unemployed).

  • If you qualify, you could receive a one-time payment of up to $2,400.

Paycheck Protection

This is a loan funded by the US government to help independent contractors and small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

  • Based on how it's used, the loan could potentially be 100% forgiveable.

Things to know before moving forward:

  • Make sure you’ve filed either your 2018 or 2019 taxes. If you haven’t, you may not receive any of the benefits from these programs.

    The IRS has pushed back the 2020 tax deadline from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020.

  • If you earned more than $112,000 in your most recent tax filing, you may not be eligible for unemployment, but you could still qualify for a one-time stimulus check or a paycheck protection loan.

💼 Unemployment Benefits (State & Federal)

What is this?

Every state has their own unemployment benefits and qualification criteria. With the CARES Act, the length of time you can be on unemployment and amount of money you can receive has been expanded. Unemployment benefits for all states now last 39 weeks (for some states this is 3x as long). In addition to your state-appointed unemployment check, you will also receive an additional $600 per week from the federal government.

Summary:

  • Now independent contractors can get these benefits

  • Everyone on unemployment gets an additional $600 per week, automatically

  • Benefits now last 39 weeks regardless of what state you’re in

What do I do next?

  • 1. File for state unemployment by finding your state in the table below

  • 2. See if you are under the earnings threshold (ex: in CA $28k per quarter is the max)

  • 3. Apply if you are close or under the threshold

Unemployment benefits by state

Apply now

Check back for updates

Common questions

How much unemployment could I receive?

Unemployment Benefits amounts are determined by each state, typically using previous income amounts as guidance.

Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

Each state sets its own unemployment insurance benefits eligibility guidelines, but you usually qualify if you:

  • Are unemployed through no fault of your own. In most states, this means you have to have separated from your last job due to a lack of available work.
  • Meet work and wage requirements. You must meet your state’s requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time referred to as a "base period." (In most states, this is usually the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters before the time that your claim is filed.)
  • Meet any additional state requirements. Find details of your own state’s program.

Eligibility for the new benefits outlined by the CARES Act can be found here.

How long do unemployment benefits last?

To receive unemployment insurance benefits, you need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online.

  • You should contact your state's unemployment insurance program as soon as possible after becoming unemployed.
  • Generally, you should file your claim with the state where you were employed. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.
  • When you file a claim, you will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment. To make sure your claim is not delayed, be sure to give complete and correct information.
  • It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check.


💰 Receive a Stimulus Payment

What is this?

The stimulus check is a one-time payment provided by the federal government, separate and in addition to any other benefits you may be receiving. The amount in your check will depend on your tax filing status and how many dependents you have.

Summary:

  • This is a one-time payment from the federal government

  • Individuals can get up to $1,200 and married couples can get up to $2,400 (plus $500 per dependent)

  • If you’re eligible, you don’t need to do anything in order to receive a check

What do I need to do:

If you filed taxes for 2018 or 2019 then you don’t need to do anything - you will automatically receive your stimulus check in the amount that you qualify for.

Common questions

How do I apply for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)?

You cannot apply for FPUC, it is a supplement to your regular unemployment. If you are currently receiving unemployment benefits and receive at least $1 in a regular payment each week, you should receive the additional $600 if eligible. The payment will be automatically updated once your state's system is modified. It is considered taxable income, but it is not deducted from your max benefit amount.Under the UIPL 15-20 guidance "child support obligations must be deducted from FPUC payments in the same manner and to the same extent as these obligations are deducted from regular UC."

How will the stimulus money be delivered to me?

This will depend on how you've filed your most recent taxes. If you included direct deposit information for your bank account, you should see the check wired into your account directly. However, if you did not include you direct deposit information, stimulus checks will be mailed out to the address listed in your last tax filing. You can also update your banking information on the IRS "Get My Payment" website here.

Who can't get stimulus checks?

Who gets stimulus payments largely depends on your previous annual income. The bill excludes individuals earning more than $99,000, and married couples without children earning more than $198,000.

✅ Paycheck Protection (PPP) Loan

What is this?

This is a loan that’s now available to independent contractors and small businesses to provide financial aid during the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on how you use the money from this loan, it can also be forgiven (meaning you don’t have to pay the money back).

The IRS has pushed back the 2020 tax deadline from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020.

Summary:

  • This is a loan provided by lenders (banks & institutions) but funded by the government

  • The maximum you can receive is 2.5x your average monthly income, up to a maximum $100k

  • This loan can be 100% forgivable

  • Deadline to apply for a PPP loan is June 30, 2020

What do I do next?

In order to get a PPP loan, you must apply through one of the 1,800+ approved lenders in the USA here.

How much can I expect?

The maximum loan is up to 2.5 times your average monthly income, capped at $100k. For example, if you earned $75,000 in 2019, your average monthly income would be $6,250 ($75,000 ÷ 12), and the loan amount would up to $15,625 ($6,250 x 2.5).

Terms of the loan:

  • Interest rate is only 1%

  • 2-year term length

  • Payments are deferred for the first 6 months

  • Can be forgiven if 75% or more of the loan is used for payroll or wages and no more than 25% is used for business rent, utilities, or business mortgage interest.

Common questions

Where do I apply for a PPP loan?

The Small Business Administration has made all approved PPP loan lenders searchable on their website here.

How can I use money from a PPP Loan?

The money can be used for payroll (no more than $100,000 annual salary per employee) as well as benefits (including paid sick leave and insurance premiums) and taxes on compensation. Up to 25% of the loan may be used to cover mortgage interest, rent, utilities and interest on pre-existing loans.

Lenders will forgive your PPP loan if you spend 100 percent of the funds on payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities in the eight weeks after receiving the loan. You must spend at least 75 percent specifically on payroll. The other 25 percent can be divided up between rent, utilities, and mortgage interest (if applicable).

You can also use your loan to cover existing debt obligations, such as credit card payments, but you will not receive loan forgiveness on those costs.

What is the interest rate on a PPP loan?

Any portion of the loan that is not forgiven will carry an interest rate of 1.0% and is due to be paid back within two years. However, payments are deferred for the first six months. There’s no pre-payment penalty (if you decide to pay it off early).

Common Questions

How can I use money from a PPP Loan?

The money can be used for payroll (no more than $100,000 annual salary per employee) as well as benefits (including paid sick leave and insurance premiums) and taxes on compensation. Up to 25% of the loan may be used to cover mortgage interest, rent, utilities and interest on pre-existing loans.

Lenders will forgive your PPP loan if you spend 100 percent of the funds on payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities in the eight weeks after receiving the loan. You must spend at least 75 percent specifically on payroll. The other 25 percent can be divided up between rent, utilities, and mortgage interest (if applicable).

You can also use your loan to cover existing debt obligations, such as credit card payments, but you will not receive loan forgiveness on those costs.

Who can't get stimulus checks?

Who gets stimulus payments largely depends on your previous annual income. The bill excludes individuals earning more than $99,000, and married couples without children earning more than $198,000.

How will the stimulus money be delivered to me?

This will depend on how you've filed your most recent taxes. If you included direct deposit information for your bank account, you should see the check wired into your account directly. However, if you did not include you direct deposit information, stimulus checks will be mailed out to the address listed in your last tax filing. You can also update your banking information on the IRS "Get My Payment" website here.

When do I get my stimulus check?

You can check the status of your stimulus payment on the IRS "Get My Payment" website here. Otherwise, here is the planned weekly schedule for the IRS to mail stimulus checks based on annual income, but the IRS could change this schedule at any time:

  • Less than $10,000: April 24
  • $10,001 - $20,000: May 1
  • $20,001 - $30,000: May 8
  • $30,001 - $40,000: May 15
  • $40,001 - $50,000: May 22
  • $50,001 - $60,000: May 29
  • $60,001 - $70,000: June 5
  • $70,001 - $80,000: June 12
  • $80,001 - $90,000: June 19
  • $90,001 - $100,000: June 26
  • $100,001 - $110,000: July 3
  • $110,001 - $120,000: July 10
  • $120,001 - $130,000: July 17
  • $130,001- $140,000: July 24
  • $140,001 - $150,000: July 31
  • $150,001 - $160,000: August 7
  • $160,001 - $170,000: August 14
  • $170,001 - $180,000: August 21
  • $180,001 - $190,000: August 28
  • $190,001 - $198,000: September 4
  • Remaining checks: September 11

Where do I apply for a PPP loan?

The Small Business Administration has made all approved PPP loan lenders searchable on their website here.

What is the interest rate on a PPP loan?

Any portion of the loan that is not forgiven will carry an interest rate of 1.0% and is due to be paid back within two years. However, payments are deferred for the first six months. There’s no pre-payment penalty (if you decide to pay it off early).

Terminology you should know

Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) - This program allows states to provide an additional $600 per week benefit to individuals who are collecting regular Unemployment Compensation (including Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) and Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Servicemembers (UCX)), as well as the following unemployment compensation programs:  Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA); Extended Benefits (EB); Short­Time Compensation (STC); Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA); Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA); and payments under the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) program. FPUC benefit payments are fully federally-funded.

Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) - Federal employees may be eligible for Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE). The UCFE program is administered by state unemployment insurance (UI) agencies acting as agents of the Federal government.

Unemployment Compensation for Ex-service members (UCX) - The UCX Program provides unemployment insurance protection to ex-servicemembers of all ranks who served in the Armed Forces of the United States. More information here.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) - An emergency program designed to help Americans affected by the 2020 novel coronavirus pandemic. It was established by the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) - Under PUA, individuals who do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation and are unable to continue working as a result of COVID-19, such as self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers, are eligible for PUA benefits.

Extended Benefits (EB) - Extended Benefits are available to workers who have exhausted regular unemployment insurance benefits during periods of high unemployment. The basic Extended Benefits program provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits when a State is experiencing high unemployment.

Short-Time Compensation (STC) -Those employees experiencing a reduction in hours are allowed to collect a percentage of their unemployment compensation (UC) benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages. STC Fact Sheet here.

Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA) - Provides income support payments to individuals who have exhausted their unemployment benefits and whose jobs were affected by foreign imports as determined by a certification of group coverage issued by the Department of Labor. Info here.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) - This program provides unemployment benefits to individuals who have become unemployed as a direct result of a Presidentially declared major disaster. Check eligibility for DUA here.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) - An SBA loan that helps businesses, independent contractors, and 1099 filers keep their workforce or themselves employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.



Guidance on Unemployment Insurance Flexibilities During COVID-19 Outbreak

NOTE: Check with your state’s unemployment insurance program regarding the rules in your state.

Federal law permits significant flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law provides states flexibility to pay benefits where:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.



Where can I find work?

Finding work can be difficult, especially in times of a national emergency like the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Find employers that are hiring right now here. Also leveraging modern tools like Fountain Pool can help find meaningful work, even in times of economic uncertainty.

Who can’t get Unemployment Benefits?

In most states, you can't get unemployment insurance if you:

  • Are dismissed for misconduct at work. What constitutes misconduct varies by state, but in general, intentionally violating safety rules, theft, embezzlement, violence, and other criminal activities will disqualify you. A failed drug test may also constitute misconduct.
  • Are dismissed for misconduct outside of work. Some states don't allow employers to terminate employees for misconduct outside of work, but some do. If so, it may also disqualify you from collecting UI benefits.
  • Turn down a suitable job. If you pass on a job that's comparable to the one you lost, you probably will no longer qualify for benefits. Your state may consider factors like pay, training and background, and safety when it determines what constitutes a "suitable" job.
  • Don't look for work. You must report to your state's Unemployment Insurance program that you've applied to a certain number of jobs each week. If you don't report this information on time, or if you stop looking for a job, you may lose your benefits.
  • Are unable to work. If you're on maternity leave, dealing with a family emergency, temporarily disabled, or otherwise unable to work, you may lose your eligibility. However, in some states, you may qualify for benefits if you quit a job for medical reasons or to care for an ill family member.
  • Receive severance pay. In some states, you can't collect UI benefits if you also have severance pay. If you get eight weeks of severance pay, for instance, your UI eligibility starts nine weeks after you lost your job.

Commit fraud. If you don't report income or a new job, you will be disqualified from receiving benefits—and you might have to repay your benefits or even go to jail for fraud.

What if I haven’t filed taxes for 2018 or 2019?

If you filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019, you don't have to do anything. The IRS will use this information from 2019, if you have filed, calculate the payment amount. They will use 2018 if you haven't filed 2019.

If you haven’t/don’t file US taxes, use the "Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info Here" application to provide simple information so you can get your payment. You should use this application if:

  • You did not file a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return because your gross income was under $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples). This includes people who had no income.
  • You weren’t required to file a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return for other reasons.


What if I work for myself, or I’m a contractor?

The CARES Act signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020, gives states the option of extending unemployment compensation to independent contractors, self-employed, sole proprietors and other workers who are ordinarily ineligible for unemployment benefits. You can contact your state’s unemployment insurance office to learn more about the availability of these benefits where you work.



What if I’m already receiving unemployment benefits?

For additional CARES Benefits - do nothing except continue to certify weekly. Your benefits will be updated automatically. What you may qualify to receive depends on the state you live or work in - check here to see to find benefits for your state.


How do I apply for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)?

You cannot apply for FPUC, it is a supplement to your regular unemployment. If you are currently receiving unemployment benefits and receive at least $1 in a regular payment each week, you should receive the additional $600 if eligible. The payment will be automatically updated once your state's system is modified. It is considered taxable income, but it is not deducted from your max benefit amount.Under the UIPL 15-20 guidance "child support obligations must be deducted from FPUC payments in the same manner and to the same extent as these obligations are deducted from regular UC."

How do I apply for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation?

Anyone who has exhausted their regular unemployment compensation benefits can get an extra 13 weeks of benefits through the PEUC program. To receive PEUC, you must be actively engaged in looking for work. Individual states will offer guidance on how to extend benefits through this program. In addition to the weekly benefit amount you can receive under PEUC, you will also be eligible for $600 per week under the FPUC program.

How Do I Apply for Unemployment Benefits?

To receive unemployment insurance benefits, you need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online.- You should contact your state's unemployment insurance program as soon as possible after becoming unemployed.- Generally, you should file your claim with the state where you were employed. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.- When you file a claim, you will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment. To make sure your claim is not delayed, be sure to give complete and correct information.- It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check.

What does the CARES Act do?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) offers economic aid, such as small business loans and unemployment assistance, to self-employed individuals who traditionally have not been eligible for such benefits. The CARES Act expands traditional unemployment benefits and also makes them accessible by self-employed individuals, sole proprietorships, gig economy workers, and independent contractors.

How long will unemployment benefits take to arrive?

Each state determines how long they pay unemployment benefits. Some states provide extended benefits when there’s high unemployment. Extended unemployment insurance benefits last for 13 weeks. You can apply for extended benefits only once you’ve run out of regular benefits. Check with your state; not everyone qualifies.



Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

Each state sets its own unemployment insurance benefits eligibility guidelines, but you usually qualify if you:

  • Are unemployed through no fault of your own. In most states, this means you have to have separated from your last job due to a lack of available work.
  • Meet work and wage requirements. You must meet your state’s requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time referred to as a "base period." (In most states, this is usually the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters before the time that your claim is filed.)
  • Meet any additional state requirements. Find details of your own state’s program.

Eligibility for the new benefits outlined by the CARES Act can be found here.

How much unemployment could I receive?

Unemployment Benefits amounts are determined by each state, typically using previous income amounts as guidance.

How long do unemployment benefits last?

To receive unemployment insurance benefits, you need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online.

  • You should contact your state's unemployment insurance program as soon as possible after becoming unemployed.
  • Generally, you should file your claim with the state where you were employed. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.
  • When you file a claim, you will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment. To make sure your claim is not delayed, be sure to give complete and correct information.
  • It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check.


What do I need in order to file for Unemployment Benefits?

Requirements vary by state, but here is likely what you will need to fill out the application:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Your driver’s license or motor vehicle ID card number (if you have one).
  • Your complete mailing address, including street, city, state, and zip code.
  • A telephone number where you can be contacted during business hours.
  • If you are not a U.S. Citizen, your Alien Registration card number (if you have a card).
  • The full company names and addresses of all employers that you worked for in the last two years, including employers located in another state.
  • The Employer Registration number or Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) of your most recent employer (if you have either).
  • If you were a federal employee, copies of forms SF8 and SF50 if you had federal employment within the last 18 months.
  • If you’re a service or ex-service member claiming benefits based on your military service, a copy of your most recent separation form DD 214.
  • If you’re unable to print a confirmation of your unemployment claim, have a pen and paper available to write down your claim information.
  • For states allowing (or requiring) direct deposit of your weekly unemployment benefits into your bank account, you must have a check available in order to enter your bank routing and checking account numbers.
  • In states using debit cards to provide unemployment benefits, you’ll receive information on the card, how it works, and when you will receive it.

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