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covid unemployment for independent contractors

Unemployment Update: Expanded Coverage for Independent Contractors and Self-Employed

By Kristen M. Kraus: In Ohio, unemployment benefits are designed to provide workers with temporary income when a worker loses his job through no fault of his own.  Because these benefits are provided for by taxes paid by employers, only employees and not independent contractors were eligible.  However, on March 27, 2020, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which expands a state’s ability to provide unemployment benefits for those who generally would not qualify by establishing the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.    While the CARES Act was passed at the end of March, Ohio Department of Job and Family Service (ODJFS), the agency responsible for processing unemployment applications, only recently starting accepting PUA applications.

PUA is only available for those who do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.  In addition, applicants must meet one of the following criteria:

  • The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or is experiencing symptoms and is seeking medical diagnosis;
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • The individual is providing care for a family member or member of the household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 emergency, and the school or care is required for the individual to work;
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a COVID-19 quarantine;
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because a healthcare professional has advised him or her to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
  • The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • The individual has quit his/her job as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • The individual was laid off as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19

Eligible individuals can pre-register by visiting https://cares.unemployment.ohio.gov/; however, the program is not expected to officially launch until mid-May.  Workers who file for PUA benefits will receive a weekly benefit similar to traditional unemployment benefits.  These benefits will be retroactive once eligibility is determined and can go back as far as February 2, 2020.  Under this program, individuals can receive a maximum of thirty-nine (39) weeks of benefits.

To apply for PUA, applicants will need to provide the following information:

  • Social security number, date of birth and driver’s license or state ID number
  • Name, address, telephone number, and valid email address
  • Name, address, telephone number and dates of employment for 2019
  • Reason for unemployment
  • Dependent information (Spouse or Children), including social security number and date of birth
  • Banking information for direct deposit

Self-employed individuals can also apply for PUA and will need to submit proof of employment including W-2 forms, recent pay stubs or vouchers, earnings statements (reflecting profit and loss), recent bank records showing payroll direct deposit, or a 2019 tax return, if available.  Additional information about the PUA program can be found at: https://unemploymenthelp.ohio.gov/expandedeligibility/

If you have questions about whether you may be eligible for benefits under the PUA program, contact Dworken & Bernstein at (440) 352-3391 to speak to an attorney.

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