The Freelancers' Guide to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

What is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?

The PUA program offers extended unemployment aid to individuals who have traditionally been ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits, including freelancers, self-employed workers, and independent contractors. PUA provides up to 39 weeks of benefits, which are available retroactively starting on or after January 27, 2020, and ending on or before December 31, 2020. This program also grants a temporary increase in unemployment compensation of an additional $600 per week, on top of regular benefits, to all UI and PUA recipients. Eligibility and application processes will vary by state, so please familiarize yourself with your particular state requirements.

How do I apply?

Contact your state's unemployment insurance program as soon as possible after losing work. Many states have recently updated their systems with new applications for PUA and in response to the unprecedented demand unemployment agencies are experiencing. We have compiled a list of state application pages with details on how to apply as a freelancer.

Last updated May 18, 2020.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible?

Specific eligibility requirements will vary by state. To qualify for PUA benefits, you must not be eligible for regular unemployment benefits and be unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of certain health or economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal guidance stipulates that eligible PUA recipients include include freelancers, self-employed workers, and independent contractors who cannot work because they:

  • Are diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking diagnosis
  • Are providing care for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Are the primary caregiver for a child whose school or care facility closed, due to COVID-19
  • Are unable to reach their place of employment due to an imposed quarantine, or because advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine, due to COVID-19
  • Became the major breadwinner because the head of household died from COVID-19
  • Quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19
  • Had their place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19
  • Meet any additional criteria specified by the U.S. Secretary of Labor

As a freelancer, how do I prove my eligibility for PUA?

Federal guidance provides that freelancers and self-employed workers are eligible, provided they are able to show that they are unable to work as a direct result of COVID-19. Specific state eligibility requirements are varied, so please be sure to reference your state's application carefully. Make sure you have your last few tax returns on hand. And if you haven’t filed taxes in the past few years, file your 2019 taxes right away.

What state should I apply in?

Generally, you should file a claim in the state where you work. If you work in multiple states, be sure to file in each state you have worked in.

What is the maximum benefit I can receive from PUA?

Benefit amounts are calculated based on previous earnings, using a formula from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program under the Stafford Act. PUA will have a minimum benefit that's equal to 50% of the state's average weekly UI benefit (which varies state to state). In addition, you will receive $600/week in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, provided by the federal government.

Are PUA benefits retroactive?

Yes, federal guidance provides that PUA benefits can retroactively cover periods of unemployment back to January 27, 2020. However, the eligible period may vary based on state.

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