Frequently Asked Questions About Unemployment Benefits for the Self Employed

Frequently Asked Questions About Unemployment Benefits for the Self Employed

Frequently Asked Questions About Unemployment Benefits for the Self Employed

The CARES Act creates three programs that offer unemployment benefits for the self employed that may provide financial relief to those who are contractors, gig workers or self-employed and can’t work due to coronavirus:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
  • Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC)
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) 

How does unemployment for the self-employed work, and how do you apply? 

Please note, the material contained in this article is for informational purposes only, is general in nature, and should not be relied upon or construed as a legal opinion or legal advice. Please keep in mind this information is changing rapidly and is based on our current understanding of the programs. It can and likely will change. Although we will be monitoring and updating this as new information becomes available, please do not rely solely on this for your financial decisions. We encourage you to consult with your lawyers, CPAs and Financial Advisors. 

In this article we describe the programs that may be available to those who are self-employed and suffering unemployment or reduced employment due to COVID-19. The following programs are all part of the CARES Act, a federal law that was signed March 27, 2020. (Keep in mind, these programs provide benefits that may be available to other workers, not just the self employed.)

It’s important to understand that your state will choose when it makes these unemployment benefits available. Some states have acted more quickly than others to extend the full range of unemployment benefits to those who are self-employed. (See this state by state chart.) 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA,” or sometimes referred to as “FPUA”) program expands state unemployment benefits to individuals who do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation and are unable to continue working as a result of the coronavirus, including self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers. Under PUA, you may be able to collect unemployment benefits available in your state even though you are self employed. 

PUA begins with weeks of unemployment beginning on or after January 27, 2020 and ends with weeks of unemployment ending after December 31, 2020.1 

Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC)

Under this program, states will administer an additional $600 weekly payment to certain eligible individuals who are receiving other benefits through July 31, 2020. These benefits are in addition to state benefits. Self-employed workers may be eligible. 

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) 

Most states provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment, though a few provide less and even fewer provide more. (See this chart for information about your state.) Under the CARES Act, states are permitted to extend unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks under Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) followed by weeks of additional assistance under Extended Benefits when unemployment levels are high.2 These benefits are generally available to those who have exhausted other compensation and are available to work, able to work and actively seeking work, although states must offer flexibility on “actively seeking work” where there are COVID-19 impacts and constraints.3

Who Qualifies for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?

In general, PUA provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits, including those who have exhausted all rights to such benefits.4

Under the CARES Act,5 you must certify that you are otherwise able to work and available for work except you are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID–19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • a member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID–19;
  • You are caring for a family member or a member of your household who has been diagnosed with COVID–19;
  • a child or other person in your household for whom you have primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for you to work;
  • You are unable to reach your place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency;
  • You are unable to reach your place of employment because you have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19;
  • You were scheduled to start employment and you don’t have a job or can’t reach the job  as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency;
  • You have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID–19;
  • You have to quit your job as a direct result of COVID–19;
  • Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency; or
  • You meet any additional criteria established by the Secretary for unemployment assistance under this section; or
  • You are self-employed, are seeking part-time employment, do not have sufficient work history, or otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment or extended benefits under State or Federal law or pandemic emergency unemployment compensation under section 2107 and you meet the requirements above. 

It does not include:

  • an individual who has the ability to telework with pay; or
  • an individual who is receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits
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What’s the Difference Between Federal vs. State Unemployment? 

States administer unemployment, although the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) oversees the system and states follow federal guidelines. States that participate in the pandemic-related unemployment programs above will be reimbursed for benefits paid through the federal government. States administer these unemployment programs using their own computer systems, and since many states traditionally don’t offer unemployment benefits to the self employed, many are experiencing problems implementing these new programs. 

What Does Self Employed Mean? 

According to guidance from the Department of Labor, “Self-employed individuals … means individuals whose primary reliance for income is on the performance of services in the individual’s own business, or on the individual’s own farm. These individuals include independent contractors, gig economy workers, and workers for certain religious entities.”

Can 1099 Employees Collect Unemployment?

One of the most common misconceptions is that 1099 independent contractors are “employees.” Contractors and employees are very different. Here’s how the IRS explains it:6 

“Generally, you must withhold income taxes, withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, and pay unemployment tax on wages paid to an employee. You do not generally have to withhold or pay any taxes on payments to independent contractors.”

Those who are independent contractors may qualify for unemployment under the programs listed above if they meet the requirements. 

Can Gig Workers Collect Unemployment? 

Gig workers may be eligible for these benefits as well. The Department of Labor states; 

A gig economy worker, such as a driver for a ride-sharing service, is eligible for PUA provided that he or she is unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work for one or more of the qualifying reasons provided for by the CARES Act.”

It also goes on to describe examples of circumstances that may make this individual eligible, for example, they were:

  • Diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and although the driver no longer has COVID-19, the illness caused health complications that render the driver objectively unable to perform his or her essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
  • Forced to suspend operations as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, such as if an emergency state or municipal order restricting movement makes continued operations unsustainable, or 
  • Forced to suspend operations due to severely reduced customer demand because of widespread social distancing undertaken in response to guidance from federal, state, or local governments.

How Do I File for Unemployment If I Am Self-Employed?  

You generally file for unemployment insurance benefits in the state in which you work. Here’s how to contact your state unemployment agency. However, the Department of Labor advises:  “if you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.7

What Documents Do I Need When Applying for Unemployment Benefits as Self-employed? 

Your state will explain the documents needed to apply as a claimant for unemployment if you are self employed. You may need to supply proof of self-employment earnings such as: 

  • Federal or state income tax returns for the 2019 calendar year
  • Copy of Schedule C, F, SE or K with your Form 1040
  • Business financial statements/records
  • Recent records connected to the business such as a phone or utility bill, current business license or rental agreement for your place of business.

Again, check with your state unemployment agency to determine what documentation is needed to apply.

What If I Am Still Receiving Some Income?

You may be able to receive some unemployment benefits if you are partially employed. Those who receive partial PUA payments can also receive the additional $600 per week benefit through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation through July 31, 2020.8 Check with your state unemployment agency for more information.

What If I Have a Job and Also Get Self Employment Income? 

Employers pay into unemployment insurance and so generally regular unemployment benefits are available to those with a job where they receive wages reported on Form W-2. According to the DOL, “in processing claims for PUA, states must verify that individuals have no regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) entitlement. If the individual is not eligible for regular UI because there are insufficient covered wages or the individual has an active UI claim with a definite or indefinite disqualification, then a state does not need to require the individual to file a regular UI initial claim.”9 Check with your state unemployment agency to find out which options are available to you. 

What If I Didn’t Apply For Unemployment Right Away?

According to DOL guidance, PUA must be paid starting with weeks of unemployment beginning on or after January 27, 2020 (with some adjustments in states where the unemployment week ends on Saturday or Sunday) if the individual meets PUA’s eligibility requirements.  PUA claims may be backdated to February 2, 2020, the first week of the Pandemic Assistance Period (PAP), if the individual otherwise meets the eligibility requirements.

Is Unemployment Taxable? 

Yes these payments are considered taxable income. The IRS advises that “If you received unemployment compensation during the year, you should receive Form 1099-G, showing the amount you were paid. If you received unemployment compensation, you may be required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. However, you can choose to have federal income tax withheld.”10 You will need to report these payments on both your federal tax return and your state tax return. Benefits you receive in the 2020 calendar year will be reported on your 2020 tax return. 

What If I Am Turned Down for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?

When you file an initial claim, your state unemployment agency is required to promptly determine if you are eligible, and if so, the weekly and maximum amounts of PUA payable. If you are denied PUA, you must be issued a determination you can appeal. You have the right of appeal and opportunity for a fair hearing to claims for PUA.11 Consult an experienced employment attorney if you have additional questions about PUA appeals.

Can I Get Unemployment and PPP or EIDL? 

While there has not been specific guidance released by Treasury, the SBA or the Department of Labor on this point, most experts agree you can’t double dip by using similar benefits during the same period of time. Some believe you can file for unemployment for the periods before or after you receive and use your PPP funds to pay payroll, however it’s important to note that there is no guidance yet from the federal government specifically supporting that position. 

Guidance provided by Treasury and SBA states:…”you should be aware that participation in the PPP may affect your eligibility for state administered unemployment compensation or unemployment assistance programs, including the programs authorized by Title II, Subtitle A of the CARES Act, or CARES Act Employee Retention Credits.” 

Keep in mind that PPP is specifically designed to help pay payroll, including for self-employed individuals. If you use PPP to pay yourself you may be considered employed during that time period. Also note that the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and grant can be used for a range of purposes explored in this article and not just payroll.

Endnotes

  1. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Implementation and Operating Instructions p I-8
  2. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, accessed April 29, 2020.
  3. Read the full qualifications in the DOL news release dated April 10, 2020.
  4. Pennsylvania Unemployment FAQs accessed April 30, 2020. 
  5. CARES Act, Section 2102 edited here for readability. Please refer to the original text for specific guidance. 
  6. IRS.gov accessed April 30, 2020
  7. Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance information accessed April 30, 2020
  8. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, accessed April 29, 2020. 
  9. Department of Labor Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Implementation and Operating Instructions, p. I-9.
  10. IRS.gov
  11. Department of Labor Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Implementation and Operating Instructions, p. I-11.

This article was originally written on April 30, 2020 and updated on May 21, 2020.

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Gerri Detweiler

Education Director for Nav

Credit expert Gerri Detweiler is Education Director for Nav. She has more than three decades of experience in consumer credit education, has been interviewed in more than 3500 news stories, and answered over 10,000 credit questions online. Her articles have been widely syndicated on sites such as MSN, Forbes, and MarketWatch. She is the author or coauthor of five books, including Finance Your Own Business: Get on the Financing Fast Track. She has testified before Congress on consumer credit legislation.

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53 responses to “Frequently Asked Questions About Unemployment Benefits for the Self Employed

  1. Why does the receipt I get from BofA (when taking out my unemployment money from the EDD card) say “cash advance”?

  2. I am receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance from Massachusetts as an unemployed independent contractor. I may receive business income some weeks which is required to be reported to the state and deducted from my benefit. Should I calculate that income the same way I calculate my profit from my business on Schedule C of my income tax return? That is, should I apply a pro-rated week’s worth of ongoing expenses to deduct from the pay received from a client, such as rent, telephone, depreciation, travel expense?

  3. Unfortunately I have found myself in a quite terrible situation. I unintentionally filed for both Unemployment and PUA because I was told by a friend who is affiliated with a political party in the state I live in that I should absolutely file for the $600 a week additional funds .. he described as PUA. when I went to file I saw that area of the website and truly believed I wasnt doing anything wrong. I believed I had to apply for it so I did. I started receiving PUA and requested that they deduct taxes out.. I always choose that option. I dont want to end up owing money when I go to file the years’ end taxes. As it were I was starting to see deposits to my bank account and thought nothing of it.. why? because everyone was to receive this $600 a week .. Then, on or about July 5th went to the certification claim page and indicated that I WOULD have made X amount IF work was available .. and if I didnt work what would I have made.. so I answered.. because work was NOT available but I’m going on what I knew I was making from both part time jobs.. well next thing I know, it was showing an issue with my claim.. then it showed ‘missed hours’ I never missed any hours and that had to be the ‘issue’ .. so I havent received any more payments as my claim is under review. I read an article recommending people to contact their state representative when they just could not get past a busy signal at the unemployment office phone numbers. Today I was told that I was not supposed to file a claim for PUA while getting Unemployment. I’m receiving neither at this time. Payments have been halted .. I couldnt understand why.. and repeatedly spent an enormous amount of time calling emailing, you name it to find out what the issue was or how it was that it could be corrected. I obviously did not miss hours or just choose not to work.. so I thought that was the cause of this ‘issue’ .. but now I’m frantic because the state rep employee said it’s like you were double dipping. I did not do this intentionally .. I thought I was doing the right thing. Now I’m freaked out. I believed the PUA WAS the $600 a week additional funds being sent .. that would end by July 25th.. I havent received either in about 3 weeks now. and now, I’m frightened because my one job hired me back with only 6 hours out of the week. Both jobs I had I was working a good 35 hours a week. so that is quite a deduction in income for anyone , let alone a mom of two teenagers to be only earning $60 a week in income. I’m so stressed out. I never intentionally filed with notions of fraud or anything like that. I am scared that I will be having to pay back the state for funds I believed I was eligible to receive. If I wasnt eligible why would PUA not have declined my filing in the first place? I truly thought this extra $600 a week WAS the PUA. Based on information from my friend who suggested I file for it. who is also involved in the political scene. I’m very worried. what is going to happen?

  4. i am self employed and have been receiving benefits most weeks because of lack of work. the follow question has been discussed with other small business owners:
    as for reporting income as a small busness owner…do i report income on the day worked, the day billed, or the day the funds are received? ex: worked on the 5th of the month, billed on the 31st of the month, received payment on the 10th of the following month.
    do i claim income for the 1st week of the month, the last week of the month, or the 2nd week of the next month?
    thanks,
    john d.

  5. Am self-employed I didn’t filled taxes for last year will a stii be qualified for unemployment relief do to the pandemic

  6. If I owe back some weeks of unemployment because the EDD payed me before those weeks were certified for. Can I use funds from my EIDL loan to pay those back?

  7. If I am on unemployment and I get 1k from wild for independed contractor. Do I have to tell unemployment when I claim weeks. Please advice thank you

  8. I am on social security was going to start child care when this all started person is not working now so I am not working but question is I have senior housing food stamps and help paying Medicare will I loose all that

  9. HI I’m a self employee receiving PUA because I lost my job ,I Also applied for SBA the bank approved with $1000 should I report this I’m my week certification?
    also do I have to pay back to the bank this money..Is this a loan? that will affect will my benefits?

    1. You got an EIDL Grant from the SBA for $1000? (It would have had the notation EIDG for grant on your deposit.) If you use that money to pay yourself then my understanding is you need to report the income to yourself. But keep in mind EIDL may be used for other business expenses besides paying yourself.

  10. Hi, I am a independent contractor, and I applied for SBA loan and approved $3500 but some of my friends they are also independent contractor( Taxi Driver) got, $50000
    Someone $36000, someone $12000 someone $9200
    My credit score is excellent. Why I got so little amount? And how can I increased my loan amount ?

  11. I am a self-employed business owner. We had to close down for COVID19 for two months and we’ve been reopened since May 18th -I have been working each week. However, I have not paid myself since reopening due to our massively decreased revenue. As I am self-employed and have been working since reopening, am I still eligible for unemployment benefits at this time since I haven’t received any personal income? Thank you.

  12. Hello, I am currently on regular unemployment in the state of Massachusetts… I have a car detailing business of my own with no LLC… Just some thing that I do on the side… Would I be able to collect the $1000 from the eidl grant?? Just for myself I have no employees. Thanks for your time

  13. I am not a business owner or self employed . Am I allowed to file for ppp to get unemployment benefits and the extra 600 a week due to the pandemic? Cause someone I know is collecting ppp that does not own a business or is self employed .

  14. I was self employed july thru december last year and didn’t make enough to file taxes. I am an independent contractor and only worked the month of january this year. I have no documentation. What will unemployment pua accept as my documents?

  15. Im self employed, currently receiving PUA and just got approved for PPP. Can I keep the PPP funds untouched, stay on PUA and only pay myself with PPP funds when PUA comes to and end on July 30th?
    Thank you.

  16. Hello, have a question. I was trying to apply for PUA . I did file tax return for 2019 . I don’t have it . But I was listed as a dependent with my fiancé Tax return for 2019 . At one point when I applying for PUA electronic file they asking to upload 1040 Tax documents . What should I do?

  17. Once started, do self-employment unemployment benefits stop for the week when a real estate commission is earned (at closing) and paid to the brokerage or when the brokerage actually makes payment to the agent? If there are no more earnings, can the UI benefits resume for the following week?

  18. I own a carpet cleaning business and I am also able to get unemployment. When filing my unemployment do I have to mark down how much the business makes? Or do I just have to put down how much I pay my self?

  19. I’m an Indep Contractor in PA. My office closed on 3/25, then I got a PPP loan on 4/21, then I was called back to my office on 5/4. Am I eligible for retroactive PUA benefits for the weeks before getting the PPP, since it’s not “double dipping” for the same time period? Thanks!

  20. I applied for unemployment and got a Pin and an amount I would receive. Mailed 4-30-2020. I have not received anything yet. Will I still get something ? I was off 3-23 till 4-6. I would like to hear something please.
    Thank you

  21. Hello,I dont worked in 2019 for health reasons,But I started work on january 2020 antil may 2.Im eligible for PUA.Thanks

    1. Hello,I dont worked in 2019 for health reasons,But I started work on january 2020 antil may 2.Im eligible for PUA?Thanks

  22. Can I apply for pua if I already applied for UI but haven’t received any payment In last three weeks because the message says there is an outstanding issue ! I have to pay my bills. Can I apply for PUA?

  23. I started working as an independent contractor in Feb. and I never filed any taxes and don’t have any documents how can I apply for PUA

  24. Can I apply for unemployment if I have never filed a tax return or do I need to file one first..I have a 1099 from previous work.

  25. I am a sole proprietor. My business is closed due to Covid. I applied for PPP Loan. The program ran out of money. Now I collect unemployment. I understand more money may may be designated for the PPP Loan program. If I apply for the loan – and get it ? Do I return the unemployment? Or just end it?

  26. I have a question. I am self employed, would I qualify for unemployment if I haven’t work since march 15, but because of the state mandated quarantine my client was not able to pay me or collect work that I performed March 1. The client just collected and paid me for that work on may 9th. Will this money be deducted from unemployment started after March 15th?

    1. As much as I’d like to help Paul this is a question you’ll need to try to address with your state unemployment agency. (I know that’s easier said than done these days…)

    2. Verify with your state, but for instance CA EDD website states that we must report money earned when we Did the work – Not when we were paid. There are also (hard to find) guidelines/youtube videos stating to make sure and remove any expenses/report “net self-employment income” in “Gross earnings” box; and how to calculate a daily or weekly pay rate for a flat rate contract (by dividing the flat rate by days to complete = daily rate, then X 7days, or days in a given week). Hopefully your state UI site will have similar info.

    3. I can’t find an answer on this: I am self employed, didn’t file my taxes since it was extended til July to be due. It seems I gotta do that to get approved for the unemployment. I tallied up my income for quarters as I filed for unemployment with my state but I got informed I have 0.00 on record for each quarter in 2019! So I’ve been denied it seems in letter and can appeal. I was then going to apply to the fed unemployment implemented since I got denied yet it seems I have to have my taxes done for that too as proof of income for forms to upload. Am I right?

      It seems only other way they get proof to believe me is pages of bank statements that literally is more tedious to upload etc than doing my taxes! I doubt my tallies of quarterly income ain’t gonna cut it when they didn’t for the state when I inputed them when I filed. Thank you when you can get back to me. I still have money in balance with the state from 15 years ago claim, but I think from what I read on internet that expired that payment year I tried to collect. All in all I think I am screwed unless I file my taxes! Help!

  27. What happens if you receive a small amount of unemployment benefits through your W2 and also get the ppp through your side business?

  28. Adjudication in progress,if this was continuously given more than five weeks. what should i have to appeals or submitted documents to get benefits.To call is show extremely high volume. I read your article so, Need help to get unemployment benefits.
    Thank u

        1. Im still waiting for my PUA benefits but just got approved for eidl loan. If i accept the loan, will my PUA benefits be canceled or affected?

    1. I am a sole proprietor with no employees. I did not open my business until October 2019. I recieved a ppp loan and used my profit from January 2020 to February 2020 to calculate loan amount. But now I am seeing info that says self employed individuals have to use 2019 schedule C, line 31. I was only in business for 3 months of 2019 so that doesn’t show accurate profit. Will this impact my forgiveness?