Freelancers, artists, gig-workers, and other independent contractors lack many basic worker protections and access to a robust social safety net, leaving them particularly vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Though not an exhaustive list, below is some information and resources aimed to help NYC-based freelancers and artists navigate these uncertain times. We will continue to update this information as more resources and specific advice for freelancers becomes available. The video recording from the 4/1 call is available here and the slides from Nicole Salk from Legal Services NYC are here. The recording from the 5/7/20 call for freelancers and artists is available here and the slides are here.
- If you have recently lost your job or source of income, you should apply for unemployment insurance benefits by clicking on this link. Many restrictions have been lifted and certain benefits have been extended to those who are self-employed, part-time workers, and/or independent contractors. Start by looking at the list of documents you will need here.
- Regular unemployment benefits are usually about half your average weekly wage. The NY DOL has a benefit rate calculator here. With the recent federal stimulus bill you now should get an additional $600 over your benefit rate for 4 months.
- Freelancers, independent contractors, and self-employed people are eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) passed in the federal stimulus package. From January 27, 2020 to December 30, 2020, individuals who are not otherwise eligible for benefits and are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of the COVID-19 public health emergency may be eligible for PUA. Last month, the NYS DOL announced a new application to streamline applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Independent contractors and gig workers who were previously told they first needed to apply for state unemployment insurance and be denied before they could apply for the federal PUA assistance will no longer need to do that. With the new application, New Yorkers will be able to simply complete one form to receive the benefits owed to them. Here is a new factsheet on applying for PUA.
- Here is a more detailed FAQ for freelancers applying for unemployment.
Loans, Grants, & Small Business Relief
- The New York City Department of Small Business Services has launched a grant program and two loan programs to help small businesses during the COVID crisis. Eligibility and benefits vary by business size and other factors. You can apply by clicking here.
- Created through the federal stimulus package, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) offers the self-employed and small business owners a $10,000 advance on an Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) that does not have to be paid back, even if the borrower does not qualify for an SBA loan. The program provides loans up to $200,000. Sole proprietors, ESOPs, cooperatives, businesses with no more than 500 employees and tribal small business concerns can apply. Under the EIDL program, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, applicants will not have to submit a tax return and will be evaluated based on their credit score. The SBA will provide the funding within three days of a successfully completed application as an advance payment. You can learn more and apply here.
- SBA has also created a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. This program is for any small business with less than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons), private non-profit organization or 501(c)(19) veterans organizations affected by coronavirus/COVID-19. More detailed information can be found here.
- The Freelancers Union has launched a new Freelancers Relief Fund that will offer financial assistance of up to $1,000 per freelance household to cover lost income and essential expenses not covered by government relief programs. Applications will open here on April 2nd.
- The New York Foundation for the Arts has a list of emergency grant programs for artists available here. The Public Theater has a list of crowdfunded grants for artists, more information here.
- Individuals can request contributions from individuals via Lost My Gig’s website which is helping freelancers and artists recoup the costs of lost work due to COVID-19.
- For an extensive list of public and private resources for small businesses, including financial support, legal support, new government rules, and more, click here.
- The Freelance Isn’t Free Act requires that payments are made in full and on time. If you have not been paid for projects that you signed a contract for, or if you have ongoing questions about payment for gigs and projects, you can contact the Department of Consumer and Worker Projection. Find out more information here or contact them by emailing email@example.com.
- You can learn about and apply for private grants and mutual aid resources for freelancers, artists, and gig-workers here, here, here, here, and here.
- New York State has extended the enrollment period to June 15th so individuals can still access health insurance plans, including Medicaid. You can compare available plans and enroll here. Recent changes to your income could make you eligible for Medicaid even if you were not previously eligible.
- If you need help with the cost of medications, you may qualify for financial assistance from NeedyMeds.
- If you are an employee who falls ill due to COVID-19, you may qualify for emergency paid sick leave under New York State and New York City law. Currently, independent contractors and freelancers do not have access to this benefit.
- New York State has launched a COVID-19 mental health hotline. For free emotional support, consultation and referral to a provider, you can call 1-844-863-9314. NYC Well is also available for individuals looking to receive immediate or ongoing assistance.
- AA meetings are continuing online. You can access those meetings here.
- Additional information about accessing healthcare, including mental and emotional wellness care, can be found here.
- Each New Yorker making up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income will receive a one-time payment of $1,200, plus $500 per dependent minor child, which will be automatically direct deposited or mailed to you within approximately three weeks. The amount will be phased out for income between $75,000 and $99,000, based on your 2018 adjusted gross income. Though the 2019 tax filing deadline is deferred until July 15 without penalty, if you did not file a 2018 tax return, you must file a 2019 tax return before you receive the cash payment.
- New York City residents needing additional cash assistance can visit ACCESS HRA to apply for Family Assistance (FA) and Safety Net Assistance (SNA).
- There is a an evictions moratorium in New York State for both private and public housing, including NYCHA and section-8 housing. You cannot be evicted for non-payment from now until at least mid-June, and the moratorium has been extended to August for tenants that have experienced COVID-related hardship. That does not mean that you are protected from eviction after the moratorium is lifted or that you will not be responsible for back-payment of rent after those 90 days and at risk of eviction after housing courts open up again.
- There is a bill in the New York State Senate and Assembly that would suspend rent payments for residential and commercial tenants facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. That bill has not yet passed. There are also several efforts at the federal level to provide rent and mortgage relief, which have also not passed.
- New York State has deferred mortgage payments for 90-days for single and two-family homeowners. You can contact your lender for information about how to request forbearance.
- If you are a New York City resident who is having difficulty paying your rent, you may qualify for a rental assistance program. You can learn more about City-administered programs here. You can also call the Met Council on Housing’s Tenant Hotline at 212-979-0611 to receive individual advice and recommendations.
- There is a moratorium on utility shut-offs in New York State.
- If you are having difficulty paying your electric and heating bills, you may qualify for an emergency assistance program. Detailed information about eligibility can be found here.
- Comcast is currently offering two months of free internet to certain low-income residents impacted by COVID-19, and Spectrum is offering free access to certain student households.
- For low-income New Yorkers, Lifeline offers up to $9.25 per month off of your phone bill. Learn more about eligibility requirements and how to apply here.
- Your credit card company may be able to offer some payment assistance. Here is a brief rundown of what might be available.
- If you anticipate difficulty paying a utility bill, you can contact your provider to see if they offer a payment deferral plan.
- All New York City children can get three free meals a day from the NYC Department of Education. You can find a location near you here.
- If you need emergency food assistance, call the Emergency Food Hotline at 866-888-8777 or visit here to find a local pantry or kitchen. There is no income limit for emergency food.
- To apply for SNAP (food stamp) benefits, you can visit ACCESS HRA.
Student & Medical Debt
- Federal Student Loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for 60 days. You may also suspend payments entirely for two months without accruing interest. You can learn more here.
- There is a hold on all collection of medical and student debt to the State of New York through May 17, 2020, which includes suspension of accrued interest. Additional information can be found here.
- As of now, other forms of medical debt and student loans must be paid as usual, but you can contact your loan provider to see if they have policies in place to provide relief.
- For general civil matters, you can contact Legal Aid NYC here.
- For specific matters related to the arts, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts provides free or low-cost legal services. You can learn about their services here or by calling 212-319-2787.
- Lawyers for Good Government are launching a program to provide pro bono legal clinics for small businesses, more information here.