Independent contractors and gig economy workers in Florida are still unable to apply for unemployment assistance amid the coronovirus pandemic one month after President Donald Trump and Congress expanded benefits to include $600 a week for workers previously excluded from state-based unemployment systems. The state announced April 16 that it would create a new unemployment benefits system for gig workers within 10 days, after Florida’s regular unemployment system was overwhelmed with applicants, but late Monday, no new site had been opened. Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter made the announcement of the separate benefits system during the April 16 news conference, saying that if gig workers had already been deemed ineligible for unemployment under the usual process, “if they’re eligible for the $600 payment, they’re being swept into [a new system].” Eleven days after Satter’s announcement, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity hasn’t said when the new application system will open.
“We were expecting either an application or specific instructions last week,” state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said. “The previous guidance was ‘apply but fail.’ For the last week, I was telling people the guidance is to wait, to wait for either an application or instruction.” Rodriguez said constituents who are independent contractors tried applying for unemployment through the state’s website on Monday. They were denied benefits after they indicated on the application that they’re an independent contractor. “So, no change,” Rodriguez said. The Department of Economic Opportunity, which runs the unemployment sites, did not respond to a request for comment on why a separate application process for independent contractors and gig economy workers hasn’t been created yet or why the state failed to meet its own deadline for starting the new system. The latest guidance from the department, which was updated on April 23, instructs gig economy workers to apply for unemployment benefits, “just like any other individual.” “They will fill out the regular Reemployment Assistance application to determine if they’re eligible for regular Reemployment Assistance benefits, and if they’re not, they will be directed to fill out a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance application,” the guide says, without informing workers when the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance application will go live. During a press conference on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state’s unemployment system was riddled with “architectural problems” that were magnified when hundreds of thousands of people tried to apply for benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic. He did not address the lack of an application for independent contractors and gig economy workers, but he did say that the 40 percent of applicants who have been denied unemployment benefits as of Monday afternoon is “inflated” because “some people are applying who haven’t been working for quite some time.” Each state is responsible for doling out the new federal benefits on their own. “My No. 1 concern right now, outside of health, is to get the checks out,” DeSantis said. Trump tweeted Monday that he wanted expanded unemployment benefits to be “paid directly,” much like the $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks being distributed through the Internal Revenue Service. He falsely accused Democrats of insisting that unemployment benefits should be directed through the states. The federal government does not have a system in place to distribute unemployment benefits nationwide. “Blame the Democrats for any ‘lateness’ in your Enhanced Unemployment Insurance,” Trump tweeted. “I wanted the money to be paid directly, they insisted it be paid by states for distribution. I told them this would happen, especially with many states which have old computers.” But it’s not clear if a rejected applicant like an independent contractor or gig economy worker in Florida will have their existing application automatically picked up by the new application system when it goes live or if they will need to file a new application. It’s also unclear if the new benefits, which will last for up to four months, will be retroactively applied to someone who lost their job in March. Florida has a greater percentage of its workforce — 22 percent — classified as independent contractors or gig economy workers than any other state in the country, according to a February study by ADP Research. “Right now, it’s just confusion,” Rodriguez said. “Frankly, for most of them I hope they tried and failed so they’re in the system. The only advice I can give people is try and fail.” * via Miami Herald*

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