Freelancers, gig workers and self-employed workers in New Jersey who have found themselves without work can now qualify for unemployment benefits through a new federal assistance program, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), which was approved in March by Congress as part of a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, allows independent contractors and self-employed workers—who have seen a decline in income because of the COVID-19 crisis—to receive benefits.
Those who are eligible will begin receiving payments as early as next week, the department announced in an April 29 news release.
Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said, “The department has worked hard over the past month to get this program up and running despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 and it is now available.”
“While it will take time to determine eligibility for everyone who seeks PUA benefits, the process has begun to get billions of additional dollars into the wallets of eligible self-employed workers,” he said.
Those categories of workers have been waiting for weeks to learn if they’d receive benefits, but the state Labor Department said it needed guidance from the federal government on how to administer the PUA program.
Unemployment Rate Grows
In recent weeks, the state’s unemployment rates have soared to record levels in the wake of mandated business closures and increased social distancing efforts. As of April 30, 930,000 workers in New Jersey have filed for job loss claims, according to the state.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit New Jersey in mid-March, non-essential businesses have remained closed and a stay-at-home order for residents has been in place. Hundreds of thousands of residents have become unemployed, furloughed or had their hours reduced and applied for unemployment benefits.
Despite the rapid influx of claims, New Jersey has dispersed more than $1 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 550,000 people, according to the state Labor Department.
According to the state, applicants first have to apply for regular unemployment so that they can be denied and become eligible for PUA benefits.
Then, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development will contact applicants about when they can log onto the state’s website to certify weekly benefits.
Claimants will receive payments retroactive to when they filed their unemployment claim, however they must certify their PUA claim each week online if they are claiming benefits. The certification schedule which is based on Social Security number, can be found at myunemployment.nj.gov
More information on how to file a claim for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is available here.