CARES Act Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for Freelancers

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) is an  act that makes independent contractors/self-employed individuals eligible for up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits under some circumstances, through December 31, 2020.

The PUA program will be in effect as of January 27, 2020, and workers will be eligible for retroactive benefits.

Eligibility for Benefits

Applicants will have to provide self-certification that they are (1) partially or fully unemployed, OR (2) unable and unavailable to work because of one of the following circumstances:

  • They have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and are seeking diagnosis;
  • A member of their household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • They are providing care for someone diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • They are providing care for a child or other household member who can’t attend school or work because it is closed due to COVID-19;
  • They are quarantined or have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
  • They were scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or cannot reach their place of employment as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak;
  • They have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • They had to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • Their place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • They meet other criteria established by the Secretary of Labor.

Until other criteria is established, the circumstance that will most closely apply to most freelance writers (including those who are still working part-time, but have less work) would probably be the bolded criterion above, which in the CARES Act reads: “(ii) the individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID–19.” We recommend being as specific as possible about the loss of work and income, and why that loss was a direct result of the outbreak – how many jobs/how much you were earning previously, when those jobs/income fell off, what triggered that fall-off (e.g. a shelter-in-place order, the closure of certain publications, declarations of emergency in certain states), and how much income/how many jobs you have lost

Amount of Benefits

PUA benefits will be calculated the same way as they are for the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program under the Stafford Act, which is the model for the PUA program. PUA will have a minimum benefit that is equal to one-half the state’s average weekly UI benefit (about $190 per week).

Process for Application

Workers will need to apply for PUA through their state unemployment offices.  Unfortunately, those offices are heavily impacted right now, and so processing time will be slowed significantly.  While states may adopt different systems for applying for PUA, the way that most states have implemented Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA, after which PUA is modeled) is that workers apply simultaneously for unemployment assistance and DUA.  For example, in California, there is a DUA supplement to the regular unemployment insurance application.

Because state agencies will not have freelance writers’ wage records, writers should collect, to the extent possible, documentation of their earnings to submit with their application or at a later stage.  Documentation could include bank statements, copies of checks, 1099s, or other materials.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios