Gig Workers Still Not Clear on Whether They Will Get $600 or Up to $1050 in Unemployment Benefits Each Week
By Quinci LeGardye, California Black Media
Gov. Newsom announced April 9 that California will begin distributing an extra $600 per week of unemployment benefits provided by the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic, Security) Act, which started April 12.
While the announcement may be welcome news to laid off W-2 workers, most independent contractors and gig workers are still unclear on whether they are eligible for the additional unemployment benefit or not.
California’s standard weekly payment to unemployed workers falls between $40 and $450 a week.
The CARES Act opened up unemployment insurance to self-employed workers through its new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The new program is meant for workers who are unemployed, have had their hours reduced, or are unable to work due to COVID-19, and who are not eligible for state unemployment benefits.
However, California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) will have to build a new application system for the federal government program. According to the EDD website, the new program “will likely rival the size of the regular UI [unemployment insurance] program the EDD already administers.”
According to the CARES Act, coverage for independent contractors under the PUA program starts retroactively on Jan. 27. Each individual freelancer will receive a maximum of 39 weeks of benefits.
The EDD has also encouraged independent contractors to apply for state unemployment benefits. According to the COVID-19 FAQ section of the website, independent contractors and gig workers can apply if they or their past employer has made contributions to state’s unemployment insurance program. The self-employed and independent contractors are told to list themselves as their last employer. There’s currently no information on whether or not any independent contractors have been approved for standard California unemployment benefits after following these instructions.
However, some independent contractors are concerned that the EDD is encouraging them to apply as independent contractors, considering the fact that the state has already reclassified them as W-2 employees under the state’s new AB-5 law, which took effect January.
The CA_EDD Twitter account received backlash from an April 1 post. “We hear you, [independent contractors]! We have a process to determine if you’ve been misclassified and eligible for UI benefits. It starts with you filing a claim to get the process going.”
Independent contractors commenting under that post fired back, complaining that they didn’t think they were misclassified. They just want clear guidelines for how self-employed workers could receive benefits.
Clarity from the state on self-employed workers and their unemployment benefits may take some additional time, but with the extra $600 per week payment ending at the end of July, independent contractors and gig workers are wondering how long they’ll have to wait.
California Surgeon General: Keep Your Stress in Check During COVID-19 Crisis
California Black Media
On April 7, World Health Day, California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris announced the release of the California Surgeon General’s Playbook on Stress Relief During COVID-19. The playbook includes evidence-based guidelines on how to alleviate stress during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
At a press conference in Sacramento last week, Burke Harris spoke about the importance of mental health during the pandemic. An increase in stress hormones during a time of worry and uncertainty can impact an individual’s physical health, she said.
“During times of heightened stress, our bodies make more stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, and these can affect our health, our behaviors and our emotions” said Burke Harris.
Those effects are of particular concern to African Americans. Some of the health conditions that can be exacerbated by heightened stress include heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes.
“Healthy nutrition, regular exercise, mindfulness like meditation, good sleep hygiene and staying connected to our social supports and getting mental health care, all help to decrease stress hormones and improve our health,” said Burke Harris.
The playbook elaborates on the six stress-busting strategies Burke Harris mentioned during the press conference, as well as a self-care template for adults. There is also a companion playbook with tips and tricks for caregivers and kids.
The surgeon general also highlighted the importance of familial and social relationships to mental health. “Safe, stable and nurturing relationships, help to protect our brains and bodies from the harmful effects of stress and adversity.”
Gov. Newsom also gave a message of faith. “We are bigger than anything we face, and so I know that fear and anxiety we all have, but let us have faith. Faith conquers all. Know that this will pass.”
Both playbooks are available under the “Stress playbooks” tab at covid19.ca.gov. In addition to the playbooks, the website lists the numbers of the 24-hour Suicide Prevention and Domestic Violence Hotlines. There are also California-based hotlines for non-emergency support, including the “Peer-Run Warm Line” for anyone in California seeking emotional support.
California Is Providing Hotel Rooms for Essential Workers
California Black Media
California has begun offering no-cost and low-cost hotel rooms to doctors, nurses and other critical frontline healthcare workers who test positive for, or have come into contact with COVID-19. Gov. Newsom announced the new program April 9, and the reservation portal opened through the CalTravelStore website April 10.
The program is designed to help infected healthcare workers avoid spreading the virus by staying in hotel rooms in close proximity to medical facilities after leaving their shifts.
“California is fighting to protect those who are protecting us,” said Governor Newsom during the announcement. “As we ramp up the workforce to meet the demand we are also stepping up to help keep our [health care] workers’ families safe by providing hotels as temporary housing options.”
150 hotels have already opted in to provide discounted rates. The Department of General Services is currently prioritizing hotels in counties with large populations or high amounts of positive test results.
While taking precautions to protect California’s health care workers, the state is also continuing to widen the ranks. 86,516 health care professionals have signed up for the California Health Corps so far, which recruits public health professionals, medical retirees and students, and members of medical disaster response teams to help address the COVID-19 surge in hospitals.
The governor’s office has also partnered with United Airlines to provide free flights for volunteer health care professionals to bring them to areas where they are most needed during the pandemic.