Covid-19Gig Work

April 30, 2020 by MJ Lacourse

I am self-employed or an independent contractor and I am unable to work or my income has been reduced for reasons related to COVID-19. What can I do to receive income while I am not working?

Beginning May 1, 2020, the Maine Department of Labor (DOL) began accepting applications for unemployment benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Under that program, workers who would not typically be eligible for unemployment under Maine law, such as self-employed workers, “gig economy” workers, independent contractors, and workers with limited work history, are eligible for unemployment benefits. According to the Maine DOL, you are eligible for benefits if: 

  • You were diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking diagnosis;
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • You are providing care for a family member or diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • You are the primary caregiver of a child who is unable to go to a school or daycare because it is closed due to COVID-19;
  • You are unable to reach your place of employment due to imposed quarantine or because you were advised to self-quarantine by a medical provider due to COVID-19;
  • You are scheduled to commence new employment and cannot reach your workplace as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • The breadwinner in your household died of COVID-19;
  • You quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • Your place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • You are self-employed, an independent contractor, or a farmer, and your business was affected by COVID-19;
  • You are seeking part-time employment and are affected by COVID-19;
  • You have insufficient work history to qualify for regular unemployment benefits under Maine law (did not make at least $5,150 in the past year), and your job was affected by COVID-19; or
  • You otherwise do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits under Maine law for any reason and you were affected by COVID-19.

You do not qualify for PUA benefits if you can do your job remotely with pay or if you are currently receiving paid leave benefits.  Unfortunately, this expansion applies only to workers who are authorized to work in the United States, so undocumented workers will not qualify. 

PUA benefits are available to workers whose employment was affected by COVID-19 between February 2, 2020 and December 26, 2020 and are available for 39 weeks.  Anyone who receives a PUA benefit will also be entitled to the additional $600 per week described in FAQ 1. 

You can apply for PUA benefits online here by clicking on “file a claim” and filling out the streamlined PUA application form. You can also contact the Maine DOL by phone at 1-800-593-7660. If you already applied for benefits and were denied because you were self-employed or did not meet the earnings threshold, you should be automatically enrolled in PUA, but you need to continue to file weekly certifications.  

If the Maine DOL does not have records of your wages because you are self-employed, you will not be asked to document your earnings immediately, but they will notify you when you need to submit the necessary documentation.  For self-employed workers, the PUA benefits will start at $172/week, but will be adjusted retroactively once earnings documentation is provided. More information about the PUA program is available in this FAQ from Maine DOL or on the Maine DOL’s PUA website.

DISCLAIMER: This FAQ Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general background information regarding legal rights relating to employment in Maine. It is not legal advice. Because laws and legal procedures are subject to differing interpretations and frequent change, particularly in an emergency, the authors cannot ensure the information is current or be responsible for how the information is used. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.