Independent contractors may have to wait until May to receive jobless benefits

An additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits could start arriving Friday for some Hoosiers, but independent contractors and gig economy workers may be waiting until next month to see any payments.

Indiana Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Fred Payne said Thursday that his department is shutting down its unemployment insurance processing system from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. tonight to update it to comply with new and revised benefits that are available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that became federal law last month. Once that’s complete, the state will be able to begin issuing an extra $600 in unemployment payments authorized by Congress.

“We believe that this small inconvenience of three hours is worth us providing payments a few days earlier to those individuals on our unemployment compensation system,” Payne said.

Payne said those payments could start going out Friday, which is ahead of the estimated April 20 he had previously projected.

But independent contractors, individuals who are self-employed and gig economy workers will have to keep waiting as the state continues to build a system to accept and administer those claims.

Those individuals were not eligible for unemployment benefits under the traditional system, which requires employers to make payments into a fund that their workers are eligible to drawn from if they are laid off down the road. But the CARES Act provides benefits to people who have not been working in a traditional employer-employee relationship.

Currently, the state’s unemployment benefits system has been denying those workers because it hasn’t been updated to reflect the federal expansion.

Payne said the agency wants to have the system set up to begin accepting applications from those individuals starting April 24, but the payment disbursement system for that will likely not be operating until May 4.

“Again, these are target dates,” Payne said. “One thing that we all know with large scale IT projects, there could always be delays.”

Payne said people who have already filed and were denied will be emailed with further instructions once the new system is operating and those claims can be processed.

In Indiana, 118,184 claims were made in the week that ended April 11, down from 127,010 the previous week, but it is still one of the highest weeks on record. The state was typically seeing fewer than 3,000 claims per week before the outbreak hit the United States in March.

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