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As it did during Superstorm Sandy, the federal government is extending unemployment benefits to those who typically are not eligible for unemployment—independent contractors, the self-employed, sole proprietors and those without sufficient work history.

Unlike Superstorm Sandy, the coronavirus pandemic is going to have a lot more people in this category filing for benefits—to the point where the state Department of Labor will not be able to process the applications by hand as they did in 2012.

Approving an application for an independent worker is especially difficult because unlike regular employees, they are not in the DOL’s database.

“When someone is a wage-earner, a W-2 earner, we have all of their records,” New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said during a recent NJBIA webinar, “so when they file a claim, 50% do not need any agent intervention, they can go right through. But by the very nature of it, for independent contractors and the unemployed, we have no records for them in our system.”

After Superstorm Sandy, the department had to process applications by hand for independent contractors and the self-employed. The department had to manually review their IRS forms and/or tax returns to determine income and how much they have worked in order to correctly determine both benefit eligibility and their level of benefits.

The sheer volume of unemployment applications received during the coronavirus pandemic makes this type of manual processing virtually impossible. Asaro-Angelo said his department is trying to figure out how to process them en masse, but until the federal government publishes regulations, they won’t know what the system will look like.

On top of that, guidance from the federal government on how to run the program just came out late Sunday night.

None of this should discourage independent contractors, the self-employed, and sole proprietors from applying.

“You’re going to get all of the money you’re eligible for,” Asaro-Angelo said during the webinar. “It’s not going to be as fast as I want you to get it, there’s no doubt about that, but you will get it.”

As NJBIA reported Tuesday, the first step for receiving emergency unemployment is to get denied under the regular unemployment program. The department is still analyzing the guidance and developing a program for independent workers. At the same time, its staff is trying to process a record-high number of applications for unemployment.

For independent workers, patience and perseverance will be needed to get approved for unemployment insurance.

View the webinar on our coronavirus resources page, and get instructions for filing at the Department of Labor website.