The $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill includes a lot ofmoney for unemployment benefits as bars, restaurants and other businesses shut down to slow the spread of the virus. Unemployment is hitting record levels around the country. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act includes unemployment benefits for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed. New unemployment applications have been hitting records, with 3.28 million people claiming benefits in the week ending March 21, Bloomberg reports. Analysts expect the numbers for the next week to look about the same, Bloomberg reports. The previous record for unemployment claims was 695,000 in October 1982, according to Bloomberg. “States would be permitted to expand eligibility to provide unemployment compensation to workers who are not normally eligible for benefits, so long as their unemployment was connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, as determined by the state and the Department of Labor,” according to a summary of the stimulus package from the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. The new law also includes people “who were unable to start a new job or contract due to the pandemic.” But giving those benefits for gig workers, like people who drive for Uber and Lyft, and contractors will be left up to the states. “Under the CARES Act, self-employed workers whose states make an agreement with the Department of Labor will receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance based on their recent earnings and will also be able to receive the $600 a week,” according to the committee. The U.S. Department of Labor is expected to publish guidelines soon for states to expand benefits to include the gig economy and what workers will need to apply, CNBC reports. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer already expanded benefits in her state to include contract workers, WWMT reports. President Donald Trump signed the stimulus package into law Friday, so it’s unclear just how many other states have signed up for the added benefits for gig workers so far. CHANGES IN BENEFITS The stimulus package includes money to reimburse states for the cost of the benefits and the additional expenses to administer unemployment programs. The law expands unemployment benefits for 13 weeks and includes an extra $600 a week on top of the state benefits for four months, called the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. The average state benefits for unemployment is about $385 a week, “but ranged from a low of $213 in Mississippi to $546 in Massachusetts,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Laid off workers, in the gig economy or from more traditional jobs, should apply for unemployment through their state. Many states have reported overwhelmed websites and phone lines, so it may take some time to successfully complete the process. *Written by Charles Duncan via Miami Herald*

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