Federal COVID-19 Unemployment Benefit Applications Open for California's Gig Workers

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California State Capitol

Under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, workers can receive up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Over two weeks after U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) urged California Labor Secretary Julie Su to roll the benefit out as soon as possible, gig and self-employed workers can now apply for federal unemployment benefits if their work has been affected by COVID-19.

Workers who are self-employed, independent contractors, business owners and otherwise do not normally qualify for state unemployment benefits but have been materially impacted by coronavirus can now apply for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program at the state's Economic Development Department (EDD), it was announced Tuesday.

Under the PUA program, created under the federal CARES Act, workers can receive up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits, depending on when the coronavirus first impacted their business. The program may also provide a 13-week extension to workers who have exhausted state unemployment benefits.

Many entertainment industry workers are independent contractors or self-employed, which Schiff alluded to in his letter to Su dated April 10. "I represent thousands of independent, freelance, contract, and gig workers — including many in the entertainment industry — who often do not fully qualify for standard unemployment benefits," he wrote at the time. "I am hearing from many of my newly eligible constituents who are concerned because they are not yet able to apply and who are increasingly worried as their financial responsibilities continue to mount without anticipated income."

“We know there are a lot of workers in the state who are in business for themselves and have been greatly struggling through this historic pandemic,” EDD director Sharon Hilliard said in a statement. “We have worked to get this new program in place quickly to support working Californians, the self-employed, their families, and their communities.”

To help applicants seeking guidance throughout the PUA application process, the state has additionally published a “Guide to applying for unemployment benefits in California” on EDD's website. The application process entails providing details about employment history and wage information.