Virus notes: Gig workers can now apply for unemployment
Hospitality industry workers hard hit by COVID-19
A RANGE OF WORKERS previously ineligible for unemployment benefits can now seek state aid if they are unable to work because of the COVID-19 outbreak and its impacts on public life.
The Baker administration announced Monday that a site making jobless aid available to those who do not qualify for traditional or extended unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers and independent contractors, is now live.
While such workers make up a substantial segment of the workforce in Massachusetts, state labor officials were unable to offer an estimate of how many applications they expect.
Congress expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits under the so-called CARES Act that President Trump signed on March 27. Benefits under the expanded eligibility program did not launch immediately because state officials needed time to develop a new platform to host applications.
Applicants must provide self-certification to show that they are prevented from working due to COVID-19 or the business shutdowns the pandemic prompted. Anyone able to work remotely or who is receiving paid leave for the duration of a customary work week will not qualify.
Applicants must provide documentation of their wages in 2019 using W-2 forms, pay stubs, or bank statements. The benefit is a percentage of the wages, but that percentage is not specified in the state filing documents. Successful applicants will initially receive the minimum payment (also not specified), but that amount may be increased as documentation is verified, but no more than the maximum, of $823 a week. Weekly benefits will be retroactive to Jan. 27, or the date when individuals became unemployed, whichever is more recent.
Applicants will also be eligible for the $600 per week paid to all unemployment benefit recipients in another component of the CARES Act. Massachusetts began offering that extra funding in early April.
Hospitality industry hard-hit in Massachusetts
In the tiny Berkshire town of Hancock, three-quarters of the jobs are in the tourism industry. In five other towns, mostly in Western Massachusetts and on Cape Cod, tourism accounts for at least half the jobs in town. With tourism currently at a standstill due to coronavirus, that’s not a good position to be in.
“Some communities in Massachusetts are really hard-hit because they depend upon the most heavily impacted industries,” said Greg Sullivan, research director of the free market think tank, the Pioneer Institute.
A report released Monday by the Pioneer Institute uses unemployment claims data to measure the hardest-hit industries in the state. Those numbers are not entirely reflective of who is out of work, since they only measure people eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, not freelancers or contract workers who are only now becoming eligible for a new form of unemployment benefits.
Retail is next, accounting for 70,700 claims, or 12.4 percent of total claims.
There are another 67,700 claims from the health and social assistance sector, representing 11.8 percent of the total. While health care workers are among the most vital workers today, there has been a drop-off in certain types of health care services, as elective procedures are cancelled and non-essential care is postponed. For example, dental offices or chiropractic offices may be shuttered for non-emergency care. This category also includes childcare providers, and most daycare centers are closed.
Geographically, the report finds that most of the hardest hit sectors – retail, health care and also construction – are fairly spread out across the state, although some communities are more heavily impacted than others. The food and accommodations category, which is heavily dependent on tourism, is disproportionately concentrated in Western Massachusetts and on Cape Cod.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Sunday ordered the flags lowered to half staff at the state-run Soldiers’ Homes in Holyoke and Chelsea, and at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam and Winchendon.
Baker ordered the flags lowered “as a mark of solemn respect and in honor of the lives of all departed veterans” since traditional military honors are unavailable to deceased veterans during the pandemic.Since the pandemic started, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home has reported 62 veteran resident deaths, of whom 52 tested positive for COVID-19.
The Chelsea Solders’ Home has reported 16 veteran resident deaths, of whom 12 tested positive for COVID-19.