Self-employed, freelancers applying for unemployment amid pandemic struggle with DOL application process


KILLINGWORTH, Conn. (WTNH) — Connecticut’s Department of Labor announced Thursday that the self-employed will now be able to apply for unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

RELATED: DOL delay: Self-employed must wait longer for unemployment applications to be processed

The benefits are part of the federal CARES Act and were approved at the end of March, but it has taken time for the DOL to create the new framework they need to begin processing claims. The implementation of which is not without problems.

Many self-employed say the launch of “phase one” is not what they expected.

“A lot of us woke up at midnight to see if the portal was there,” said Devon Dopfel, a massage therapist with her own business, “And then we waited until early morning and it wasn’t.”

RELATED: DOL: Self-employed Connecticut residents can now apply for unemployment aid

The entrepreneur says she’s been in touch with thousands of people on social media, who, like her, have been waiting for the DOL to open up its portal. They say the two-part rollout is misleading.  

Here’s why: applicants first have to be denied by the state through the old system.

“The PUA program requires by federal law it is available to people ineligble for state benefits,” said Deputy Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo.

A denial letter will be mailed by next week. At that point, applicants then have to log back in and finish the second phase.

RELATED: 30 million have sought US jobless aid since virus hit

Dopfel says she already filed, and got the required denial letter. Nevertheless, the DOL says she’ll have to wait until next week when the second phase of the system kicks in.

“The one they referenced as being available today has been available forever. It’s the unemployment button,” said Dopfel.

“We know a bunch of them have applied through the normal system already. Clearly it will be in the tens of thousands so there could easily be a certain amount of a backlog,” said Commissioner Kurt Westby.

The DOL says it’s doing its best, building a brand new system at lightning speed in the face of demand not seen since the Great Depression.

Dopfel says she understands, but, “It’s also feeling like we’re being left last,” she said. 

Labor officials say payments for the self-employed will begin at the end of next week. They will be retroactive and, if the claim dates from March 29 onward, will retroactively include the $600 federal unemployment benefit enhancement.

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