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Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for Self Employed & Small Business Owners

If you are a self-employed worker or do not have a long enough work history to qualify for regular state unemployment insurance, you may now be eligible for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Examples of Eligible Workers

Examples of workers eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance include:

  • Independent contractors
  • Gig economy or freelance workers
  • Small business owners
  • Temporary or seasonal workers
  • Workers who have just started or were about to start a job

Qualifying Events for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

  • Reason you cannot work is related to COVID19
  • Not receiving full paid leave
  • Cannot telework for full pay
  • Applied for and been denied regular unemployment benefits

Applying for benefits:

First step under federal law is to apply for regular unemployment and then get denied at the ESD website.  This sounds odd but It’s a federal requirement under CARES, denial is a requirement to access the expanded unemployment program.   

Next apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.  You apply at the same place.  ESD will prompt you to apply after the denial.

Both the federally funded unemployment assistance and state unemployment insurance benefits will be administered by the Washington State Employment Security Department. It is important to carefully follow the application instructions in the Expanded Pandemic Unemployment Benefits Guide.

Tip is to report your actual quarterly net earnings, as ESD will take the 2 highest quarters from the year to determine benefits. Even if you don’t have an income, you might still be able to receive the minimum amount which for a full time worker is $835/weekly (minimum benefit amount of $235 for full time workers + $600/weekly enhancement until July 25, 2020 under Cares Act).  

In many instances, a sole proprietor may get more benefit applying for unemployment benefits, particularly if the PPP loan amount is very low, given the administrative burden. Expanded benefits include additional $600 weekly benefit. This is available through end of July but may be retroactive to mid-April depending on the individual circumstance.

For businesses still operating in a very limited capacity (e.g. take out/delivery)–Expanded UI does not require a self-employed person lose ALL income.  So there is definitely a grey area. If someone is eligible for any amount of UI, they get the $600 weekly benefit. The income documents are similar to the PPP application so they should already be in hand.

Increase in unemployment benefit amounts:

If you are receiving state unemployment insurance or federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, you are eligible to receive an additional $600 in weekly benefits up until July 31, 2020.   You may even be able to receive benefits retroactively, if you lost pay due to Coronavirus after it was declared a public health emergency on January 27, 2020.

Extension of unemployment benefits:

State unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will be available for an additional 13 weeks, if you have exhausted your claim and continue to be unable to work due to the Coronavirus.

Contact info for the Washington State Employment Security Department

While the Employment Security Department is encouraging people to apply on-line, a claims number is available where you can request interpreter services at 800-318-6022