By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
HARTFORD — The Department of Labor started accepting unemployment applications Thursday from the self-employed, independent contractors, and “gig economy” workers.
Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said tens of thousands of these individuals who are otherwise ineligible for state unemployment benefits are expected to receive Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.
The labor department is expecting to send out the first batch of PUA payments next week. The weekly benefits will range from $198 to $649.
There is a two-step application process that requires people first apply for state benefits. No one can apply for the federal benefits until a state application has been processed and denied.
The PUA program provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who are typically ineligible for regular unemployment benefits because they do not pay into the system.
In Connecticut, self-employed individuals, independent contractors and gig workers who qualify are eligible to collect federal benefits from Feb. 2 through the end of 2020.
Retroactive payments will be made when applicable, said Daryle Dudzinksi, a deputy labor commissioner.
Also, the weekly benefits will include an additional $600 federal payment for claims filed between March 29 and July 25, he said. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments will also be retroactive to the applicable date.
Applicants must be unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus disease outbreak. Federal guidelines spell out nine qualifying circumstances.
Self-employed people, independent contractors and gig workers are eligible if they or a household member is diagnosed with COVID-19, or if they are caring for a diagnosed family or household member, or if they have children whose school has been closed.
Also, PUA benefits are available if an individual’s workplace is quarantined or closed, or if a health care provider advised someone to self-quarantine because of COVID-19 concerns, or if a person must quit a job because of COVID-19.
In addition the program covers people who were scheduled to begin employment and do not have a job, or cannot reach the job as a direct result of the public health emergency;
There is an exception for individuals who have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household died as a direct result of COVID-19.
The PUA benefit is not available to individuals who can telework or are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.
There is a two-step application process available through the state unemployment system online at www.filectui.com.
Federal guidelines require PUA applicants first apply for state benefits because no one can apply for the federal benefits until a state application has been processed and denied. Once the labor department sends a determination notice, they can apply on the newly-designed PUA online system that will also be at www.filect.com.
Also, anyone who already filed a PUA claim application through this system should not file because the agency has the original claims and a duplicate is not needed.
Westby said there may likely be a backlog in processing PUA application.
“Cleary, it will be in the tens of thousands, so there could easily be a certain amount of a backlog. We’ll see,” he said
The labor department had to overcome limitations of its unemployment processing system to handle a surge in unemployment applications. It also had to devise new systems to accommodate the PUA, the FPUC and a third federal stimulus program that expanded unemployment benefits.
The labor department is continuing to work on implementing Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. It will provide a 13-week extension of eligible unemployed workers who have exhausted the standard 26 weeks of state benefits.
Labor officials expect to be accepting and processing PEUC application in the second half of May.
Steve Barlow contributed to this report.