LANSING, Mich. — A new group of workers are able to apply for unemployment benefits starting today, according to the state. The self-employed, independent contractors, low wage workers, gig workers and 1099 employees were ineligible until Congress expanded who qualifies under the CARES act.
A link has been made available on the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity's website directing applicants to a federal website to apply for benefits.
Under the federal CARES Act, the self-employed will receive $600 a week through the end of July.
Jennifer Lord, an employment attorney based in Royal Oak, says unemployment benefits for independent contractors are long overdue and crucial for those unaccustomed to this kind of safety net.
"I've had friends call me whose spouses are independent contractors, and they are just desperate," Lord said.
She explained, "They become much more vulnerable when there's an economic downturn. Any time anything goes wrong they're the first to go. So this is a good first step."
"That's groceries on the table. That's, 'I can keep the lights on.' This is critical. So I hope we can keep this moving forward," Lord said of the $600 payments.
Among its many impacts, Lord says COVID-19 is exposing inequities in the system that have long existed.
"You can have two identical workers, standing next to each other on the line at General Motors," Lord explained. "They're doing the exact same job and yet one gets no health benefits. One has to take an extra tax hit of about 8% to pay their payroll taxes and then when they get laid off or they get fired. They don't have this safety net. This unemployment insurance safety net until now. Until today."
"So I think it's just super important because for years and years companies have been taking advantage of these independent contractors," she added.
In order to receive the maximum amount they're entitled, the state says eligible workers will need to provide proof of income. That includes 1099 tax forms, pay stubs and W-2s.
At a press conference late Monday afternoon, the state department of labor's director Jeff Donofrio said, "We're adding capacity, we're increasing eligibility and benefits and making sure that we work hard to provide that emergency relief that's needed to weather that economic crisis."