Updates: Maryland’s system for new unemployment claims suffered system crashes in its first weekend of operation, but is now (Monday, Apr 27) receiving applications.
The District of Columbia began accepting claims as of this morning (Monday, April 27), however, they require that PUA applicants first file for standard unemployment benefits.
Local governments in the DC area have struggled to implement the Federal CARES Act provisions (including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA) which became law on March 27, 2020. One important provision grants unemployment benefits to out-of-work independent contractors and self-employed people.
As a result of PUA, theatre artists who have worked in Virginia, Maryland and the District will be able to apply for unemployment benefits based on their cancelled contracts and should do so in all the jurisdictions in which they worked.
10 states report paying out PUA benefits
Maryland applications opened for online applications at 7am today. (Due to the volume of applicants, their BEACON system crashed and remains inaccessible as of Apr 26.) As of this writing, the District of Columbia’s system is not yet open. Virginia’s application process is open now, but there’s a catch — you must first be turned down for traditional unemployment benefits before you can apply.
Who can apply for PUA
Under the longstanding provisions of the unemployment law, only employees — those on the employer’s payroll — are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. Employers pay unemployment insurance premiums on employees in order to fund the benefit payments. They do not pay unemployment insurance premiums on independent contractors, and those contractors have been ineligible for benefit payments once their services are discontinued.
The CARES Act changed all that, at least for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Recognizing the devastating financial effect of Covid-19 on employees and independent contractors alike, the CARES Act provided that anyone who lost a job because the source of employment was shut down by the coronavirus would be eligible for unemployment benefits.
So, for example, a theater artist who had been scheduled to work on one or more of the area theater’s now-cancelled productions this spring or summer would be eligible for unemployment benefits because the theaters have closed. They should apply for benefits in the District and/or the states where their work was cancelled.
The District of Columbia has opened its lines for PUA claims, however, they require first applying for standard unemployment benefits. Apply here. According to our contact with the District’s Public Affairs Office, the District will strive to disburse all benefit payments within 21 days of filing an initial claim, our contact wrote, with less complicated claims turned around within 15 days. Maximum benefit, according to WAMU, is a maximum of $444, at this time, for 39 weeks.
Virginia requires independent contractors and self-employed applicants to first apply for traditional unemployment benefits here, or by calling 866.832.2363. After applicants are turned down, they should apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance at this site, which will ask the applicant to set up an account for their application. The maximum weekly benefit for Virginia is $378, according to research done by WAMU.
For all work lost between March 22 and July 31, the Federal CARES Act provides an additional $600 benefit.
Resources provided for this article include Ally Schweitzer’s report on gig workers for WAMU.
Lorraine Treanor collaborated on this article.
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