Connecticut Struggles to Provide Promised Unemployment Benefits to the State’s Self-Employed

On March 29, after two weeks out of work, Chris Read applied for unemployment benefits. Today, more than five weeks later, his application has yet to be accepted and his rainy day funds are almost out.

“I haven’t worked in seven weeks and I am self-employed. This is just the end of my rope,” said Read, a carpet installer in southeastern Connecticut. “I feel hung out to dry here.”

At the end of March, Read, like many other self-employed individuals across the state, were told that for the first time that they would be able to apply for unemployment benefits from the state. In addition, they would be eligible for the $600 weekly bonus provided by the federal government through the CARES Act.

The problem was, Connecticut – and every other state – had never allowed the self-employed to apply for unemployment benefits before and had no system in place to accept their applications.

“When I tried to apply there was no way for the self-employed people to apply. I went through the system until I couldn’t get any further,” said Carolyn Yost, an antiques and jewelry shop owner in Stonington. “They kept saying we could get it, but there was no way to apply and nobody to talk to.”

Initially the Connecticut Department of Labor’s message to the self-employed was to wait. At a press conference in early April Josh Geballe urged residents to be patient. He told them that the system would be ready to accept their applications on April 30.

“The Department of Labor is almost through their backlog and is now accepting applications for self-employed,” he announced on April 30.

When pressed on the topic, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Paul Mounds, asserted that applications have been accepted.

“We have put out very new guidelines when it comes to those individuals who are self-employed,” said Mounds. “The Department of Labor has been working vigorously and put together a new software system. They have accepted applications.”

The problem is, the department’s website was not and is still not updated and the self-employed applications under the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance program are still not being accepted.

Today, Nancy Steffens, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Labor, said the new start date for the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance program is May 6. If an individual’s application is accepted, the benefits could last through December 26, 2020.

“The filing site for PUI is not posted yet, so that is likely the concern you are hearing. We have been letting people know that the system is set to be posted mid-week,” Steffens said.

For some, the almost two-month delay, has convinced them that applying will not be worth their time.

“I could use it for sure, but I’ve already spent so many hours trying to figure it out that I’m frustrated,” Yost said.

The process to qualify for pandemic unemployment insurance is lengthy, and frequent. According to Steffens it requires all applicants to file for regular state benefits first, then, once they have received an official rejection, they must apply for the self-employed program with their past W-2s, 1099s or tax returns weekly in order to receive benefits.

“The claimant will file weekly claims using the red UA button,” Steffens said. “Regarding the number of self-employed, we do not know how many self-employed will apply since they are not traditionally in our unemployment system.”

Like the small business loan program, the number of applicants could be overwhelming. Without counting any of the self-employed, Connecticut already has almost 400,000 individuals who have filed for unemployment benefits, according to Steffens.

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