Applying for Unemployment Insurance as a Freelancer

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. 

The DOL has not released detailed information yet about how the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits will be calculated and distributed, but it is expected to be equivalent to the weekly benefit rate that an individual would have received if they were otherwise eligible for benefits (including the additional $600 per week of PUC from April 5, 2020 to July 31, 2020). We’ve put together answers to commonly asked questions here and will update when more information becomes available. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

  • How do I apply for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance? 
    • 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. You can apply for both UI and PUA by starting your application here. 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.Go here to get more details on applying in New York State and start your application.
  • What is the maximum benefit I can receive from PUA? 
    • Your benefit rate is based on your recent wages. In New York, the current maximum weekly benefit rate is $504. The minimum PUA benefit rate is 50% of the average weekly benefit amount in New York. For January 27, 2020 – March 31, 2020, the minimum benefit rate is $172. For April 1, 2020 – June 30, 2020, the minimum benefit rate is $182. 
  • I’ve been calling and calling but the lines are full, is anyone getting through? Is there any other way to complete my application? 
    • The New York Department of Labor is overwhelmed by the increased volume of calls but they are working to expand capacity. They’ve asked people to call on specific days based on their last name to help manage the incoming calls. Last names starting with A-F should file on Mondays, G-N file on Tuesdays, O-Z file on Wednesdays, and anyone that missed their filing day should file from Thursdays through Saturdays. So keep calling, and we will keep pushing to improve the capacity and speed of the process.
  • I am a sole proprietor/S-corp/C-corp, am I eligible for unemployment insurance (UI)? 
    • It depends. If you have a part-time home-based business, you may be ineligible on the days that you are working. If your business is closed, you may be eligible. If you are not eligible for regular UI, you might be eligible for pandemic unemployment insurance (PUA). 
  • The questions on the NYS UI application do not apply to me because I do not have a single employer and/or am paid through 1099s. How should I answer the questions or document my income? 
    • If you have been paid by several employers your W-2 employers will typically show up and you should be able to write in at least one of your 1099 employers in the application. If you have been misclassified as an independent contractor, you can send/fax in a reconsideration form and attempt to have your income counted. However, if you are a legitimate independent contractor, you will receive a monetary benefit determination with 0 benefits, and you may be eligible for PUA. 
  • Can I apply for unemployment based on my future work that has been cancelled? How do I document that? 
    • If you do not have work now, then you can apply for UI/PUA. However, if you are still working you have to wait until you are no longer working to apply.
  • If I live in one state and work in another (or have gigs in many) where should I apply for unemployment? 
    • You should apply in the state that you work–not where you live. If you work in more than one state, you have the choice of applying in either. Most states around NY (including NJ) have higher benefit rates, so you may want to apply in another state.
  • If I am a permanent resident or have a temporary work visa can I apply for unemployment?
    • If you are a permanent resident or had work authorization (e.g. DACA) during the relevant base period and continue to have work authorization, you are eligible for unemployment insurance.
  • What if I am self-employed or an independent contractor and don’t have recent wages, how will they determine the PUA benefit rate?
    • The US DOL has not yet issued rules or guidance on how the benefit rate for self-employed/ICs will be determined. However, Legal Services NYC believes based on federal regulations that the DOL will look at 2019 tax returns to determine the benefit rate. If you have not yet filed 2019 tax returns, you should be able to provide a statement of your net earnings.
  • My hours were reduced. Am I eligible for NYS UI and PUA?
    • You can get partial benefits if you work less than 4 days and make less than $504 per week (the  maximum benefit rate) in a given week. You will not receive any benefits for weeks in which you work 4 or more days or make more than the maximum benefit rate. Please be aware that any work, even a few minutes a day can count as a day of work. To the extent possible, claimants should do all work on one day.
  • What do I do if I made a mistake and was denied PUA?
    • If you are denied UI/PUA, you may want to reapply and you should request a hearing within 30 days to protect your rights. You can request an Unemployment Insurance hearing online or by mail/fax. To request a hearing online, go here and sign in to your account. Choose “Go to My Online Forms.” Under the “Forms Available for Filing” menu on the left, choose the “Claimant Request for Hearing” form. Please fill out the form completely and submit it.
      You can also submit a request for a hearing to NYS Department of Labor, P.O. Box 15131, Albany, NY 12212-5131, or fax it to (518) 457-9378. The request must be postmarked or otherwise proven to have been filed within 30 days after the mailing or personal delivery of the determination. Make sure you include your Social Security number on your hearing request and the reasons you disagree with the determination. You will be notified of the date, time and place of the hearing by the Administrative Law Judge section after your request has been processed.
  • Can I apply for PPP and PUA? EIDL?
    • While you can technically apply for PPP and PUA, you may have to report the income received from PPP which may make you ineligible for PUA. However, if you get PPP funds, you may want to apply for PUA when the PPP funds run out.  
      They are currently not accepting new applications for EIDL. While initially they said that the grants would be $10,000, they issued new guidance that they would be up to a max of $10,000 with $1,000 per employee. As a result, self-employed folks only get $1,000 and cannot apply for more. 
  • When should I expect to receive benefits?
    • For regular UI it typically takes 2-3 weeks to begin receiving benefits after your application has been approved. As of May 8th, very few people have received PUA but the DOL is beginning to approve these applications.
  • A lot of freelancers who have pending PUA claims seem to have received $600 payments from NYSDOL on April 24th and again on May 6th. Is there any clarity as to what exactly these payments are? 
    • Legal Services NYC believes these payments are pandemic employment compensation (PUC) and that the DOL sent these payments out to PUA applicants while their applications were pending.