After a lengthy delay, California’s gig workers, the self-employed, independent contractors and freelancers can now apply for unemployment insurance benefits. On April 28, the state started accepting their unemployment applications under a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). It will deliver financial assistance to thousands of people across California who are not eligible for the traditional unemployment insurance and have not received work income since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is what you need to know to apply for the PUA program: Who is eligible? You must be an unemployed or partially employed gig worker, independent contractor, freelancer, or self-employed business person who has been impacted by COVID-19. You may also be eligible if you have an insufficient work history or have exhausted all traditional UI benefits. For all the specific qualifications, click on the EDD website for more information. How do you apply for PUA? Those eligible for the PUA program can apply online for their benefits using the EDD’s UI Online Portal. What do you need to do when you apply? PUA applicants should have their income sources from 2019 on hand (Schedule C tax forms and 1099s for example). You will self-declare your income for the 2019 tax year in the system and will not need to submit any documents during your initial application. How much will you receive in benefits? All successful applicants will initially receive the minimum benefit amount of $167 a week and the additional $600 a week benefit promised by the CARES Act passed by Congress on March 29. The EDD notes claims will be backdated to when you became directly impacted by COVID-19, as far back as early February. However, the additional $600 a week federal benefit will only apply to weekly claims from March 29 through July 25, 2020. How do you receive more than the minimum weekly benefit? Once your PUA claim is accepted, you will be able to potentially increase your weekly benefit by certifying your actual pay from your sole proprietor business or gig work in 2019 by sending in supporting documents to the EDD. They may then adjust your weekly benefit payment from the minimum of $167 a week to a possible maximum of $450 a week. Supporting documents may include your annual tax return, 1099 forms, W-2s, and pay stubs. The certification process should take a maximum of 21 days, and any additional assistance will also be backdated to when you first received unemployment assistance. What if you don’t know if you are eligible for traditional or PUA benefits? When you apply through the UI Online portal, EDD will guide you through a series of questions, including employment history and earnings. That will determine whether to apply through the traditional UI system or the new PUA system for benefits. If you have W2 wages and 1099 wages, how should you file for unemployment? According to the EDD, if you have W2 wages, even if they are smaller than your 1099 wages, you still need to file as a claim through the regular UI system and not the PUA. How long will it take to receive your benefits? If you already have an EDD debit card from a previous UI claim, you should receive your benefits within two days. New applicants will likely receive benefits within four to seven days upon receiving a new debit card and mailed checks. How long are you eligible for PUA benefits? PUA benefits will be available for a maximum of 39 weeks, and the program will end by Dec. 26, 2020. For additional questions, check the PUA FAQ on the EDD site. *By Douglas Zimmerman via*  

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