The Investigators: Unemployment websites not ready for self-employed, independent contractors

States scramble to update unemployment sites

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Nearly 250,000 people filed for unemployment in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee in the first week of April alone.

While those states have publicly asked for patience as they process the unprecedented number of claims, there’s another issue slowing down the process for some.

Most musicians, hairdressers and rideshare drivers didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits until Congress enacted The CARES Act on March 27.

Under the Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, self-employed independent contractors can now apply for unemployment.

Self-employed individuals must enroll on their state’s unemployment website and some of those websites aren’t yet set up their applications.

“Unemployment is kind of like an insurance fund. Everyone pays into it and then you draw benefits out,” said employment attorney Alan Crone in Memphis. "Now you’ve got a whole universe of people, these independent contractors, who aren’t in the system. "

Crone says most states are now scrambling to update their websites.

“You know how computer systems are. You’ve got to have a drop-down menu and it has to say what you are,” said Crone. “Well, none of that exists. So adding that to it, in a language that’s old, and only a certain number of people who know how to do that.”

The Arkansas Division of Workplace Services said it is currently building the system to accept these applications.

It was created an email alert that will send updates and application information as soon as the system is ready.

You can sign up here.

The Tennessee Department of Labor said self-employed individuals can apply now and should.

“When the state starts paying Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, their claims will be there and ready to process,” said Department of Labor spokesperson Chris Cannon.

The department Tweeted Tuesday that if you filed you do not need to reapply when the application is updated.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Services said it should have its website updated toward the end of this week.

An MDES spokesperson said in an email “for the 1099 workers, etc., we still prefer them to wait to file.”

“Unfortunately, technology changes take a little time,” said MDES Executive Director Jackie Turner. “We want to implement those changes methodically and don’t have any unintended consequences along the way.”

The Investigators have spoken to dozens of people who say time is not on their side when it comes to unemployment and the bills they have to pay.

Self-employed struggling to get benefits during COVID-19 crisis

“We’ve kind of come to expect instant gratification and to expect that we can just flip switches and things will work that’s not really the way it works,” said Crone. “This is easier for me to say than it’s easier for them to do but you gotta be patient.”

Once you’re able to apply and get approved, the benefits are retroactive. The money you receive will be based on the day you lost your job, not when your application was processed.

There is also help for small business owners.

The Paycheck Protection Program provides businesses with 500 or fewer employees with money to pay its employees, or to pay interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.

An Economic Injury Disaster Loan offers up to $10,000 for small businesses hurting during the pandemic, and the loan does not have to be repaid.

Copyright 2020 WMC. All rights reserved.