Applying for Unemployment Insurance as a Freelancer

Freelancers, independent contractors, and self-employed people are eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) passed in the federal stimulus package. From January 27, 2020 to December 30, 2020, individuals who are not otherwise eligible for benefits and are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of the COVID-19 public health emergency may be eligible for PUA. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

· How do I apply for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance? 

o You must apply for regular unemployment insurance through your state and be determined ineligible first to apply for the PUA. The NYS DOL has put together a Guidance for Self-Employed to how to answer the questions in the application, there is also a Benefit Flowchart

· What is the maximum benefit I can receive from PUA? 

o Your benefit rate is based on your recent wages. In New York, the current maximum weekly benefit rate is $504. The minimum PUA benefit rate is 50% of the average weekly benefit amount in New York. For January 27, 2020 - March 31, 2020, the minimum benefit rate is $172. For April 1, 2020 - June 30, 2020, the minimum benefit rate is $182. 

· I’ve been calling and calling but the lines are full, is anyone getting through? Is there any other way to complete my application? 

o The New York Department of Labor is overwhelmed by the increased volume of calls but they are working to expand capacity. They’ve asked people to call on specific days based on their last name to help manage the incoming calls. Last names starting with A-F should file on Mondays, G-N file on Tuesdays, O-Z file on Wednesdays, and anyone that missed their filing day should file from Thursdays through Saturdays. The NYS DOL has now waived the requirement to call to finish your application, the call center will call you back within 72 hours to complete your claim.

· I am a sole proprietor/S-corp/C-corp, am I eligible for unemployment insurance (UI)? 

o It depends. If you have a part-time home-based business, you may be ineligible on the days that you are working. If your business is closed, you may be eligible. If you are not eligible for regular UI, you might be eligible for pandemic unemployment insurance (PUA). 

· The questions on the NYS UI application do not apply to me because I do not have a single employer and/or am paid through 1099s. How should I answer the questions or document my income? 

o If you have been paid by several employers your W-2 employers will typically show up and you should be able to write in at least one of your 1099 employers in the application. If you have been misclassified as an independent contractor, you can send/fax in a reconsideration form and attempt to have your income counted. However, if you are a legitimate independent contractor, you will receive a monetary benefit determination with 0 benefits, and you may be eligible for PUA. 

· Can I apply for unemployment based on my future work that has been cancelled? How do I document that? 

o If you do not have work now, then you can apply for UI/PUA. However, if you are still working you have to wait until you are no longer working to apply.

· If I live in one state and work in another (or have gigs in many) where should I apply for unemployment? 

o You should apply in the state that you work--not where you live. If you work in more than one state, you have the choice of applying in either. Most states around NY (including NJ) have higher benefit rates, so you may want to apply in another state.

· If I am a permanent resident or have a temporary work visa can I apply for unemployment?

o If you are a permanent resident or had work authorization (e.g. DACA) during the relevant base period and continue to have work authorization, you are eligible for unemployment insurance.

· What if I am self-employed or an independent contractor and don’t have recent wages, how will they determine the PUA benefit rate?

o The US DOL has not yet issued rules or guidance on how the benefit rate for self-employed/ICs will be determined. However, Legal Services NYC believes based on federal regulations that the DOL will look at 2019 tax returns to determine the benefit rate. If you have not yet filed 2019 tax returns, you should be able to provide a statement of your net earnings.

Loans, Grants, & Small Business Relief

· The New York City Department of Small Business Services has launched programs to help small businesses during the COVID crisis. Eligibility and benefits vary by business size and other factors. 

· Created through the federal stimulus package, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) offers the self-employed and small business owners a $10,000 advance on an Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) that does not have to be paid back, even if the borrower does not qualify for an SBA loan. The program provides loans up to $200,000. Sole proprietors, ESOPs, cooperatives, businesses with no more than 500 employees and tribal small business concerns can apply. Under the EIDL program, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, applicants will not have to submit a tax return and will be evaluated based on their credit score. The SBA will provide the funding within three days of a successfully completed application as an advance payment. 

· SBA has also created a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. This program is for any small business with less than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons), private non-profit organization or 501(c)(19) veterans organizations affected by coronavirus/COVID-19.  

· The Freelancers Union has launched a new Freelancers Relief Fund that will offer financial assistance of up to $1,000 per freelance household to cover lost income and essential expenses not covered by government relief programs. 

· The New York Foundation for the Arts has a list of emergency grant programs for artists. The Public Theater has a list of crowdfunded grants for artists. information here.

· Individuals can request contributions from individuals via Lost My Gig’s website which is helping freelancers and artists recoup the costs of lost work due to COVID-19.

· Here is  an Google Doc extensive list of public and private Resources for Small Businesses & Vendors from the United for Small Businss organization including financial support, legal support, new government rules, and more.

· The Freelance Isn’t Free Act requires that payments are made in full and on time. If you have not been paid for projects that you signed a contract for, or if you have ongoing questions about payment for gigs and projects, you can contact the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection by email at

· You can learn about and apply for private grants and mutual aid resources throughout the nation for freelancers, artists, and gig-workers (including for specific arts and disciplines) at: 


You and your family have many low cost, quality health insurance options available through the New York State Individual Marketplace. Recent changes to your income could make you eligible for Medicaid even if you were not previously eligible.


Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are community health centers that can address many of your primary healthcare needs so that you don’t ne. You can find other FQHCs throught NYC and the country by visiting  ake Medicaid, Medicare, and some private insurance, as well as patients who do not have health insurance. Patients without insurance may be charged a modest fee on a sliding scale based upon need. 

GHPEDC’s sister non-profit, Urban Health Plan, is a Bronx-based network of FQHCs in the South Bronx, Harlem and Corona, Queens. 

You can find other FQHCs throughout NYC and the country by visiting  the federal Bureau of Primary Health Care  and scrolling down to "Find a Health Center" at the bottom of the page.   NOTE: During the Covid-19 pandemic many FQHC’s have reduced clinic hours and have moved some of their treatment to “Tele-Health” visits, so patients do not have to come into the site. Check each FQHC's website for further info. 

If you need help with the cost of medications, you may qualify for financial assistance from NeedyMeds.

If you are an employee who falls ill due to COVID-19, you may qualify for emergency paid sick leave under New York State and New York City law. Currently, independent contractors and freelancers do not have access to this benefit. 

New York State has launched a COVID-19 mental health hotline. For free emotional support, consultation and referral to a provider, you can call 1-844-863-9314. NYC Well is also available for individuals looking to receive immediate or ongoing assistance. 

Alcoholics Anonymous Inter-Group of New York (AA) meetings are continuing online.  

If you are struggling with drug addiction in the South Bronx, St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction  is open and has a special page for sex, drug use and mental health , etc issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Ann's can be reached at (718) 585 – 5544, 886 Westchester Ave, Bronx NY (3 blocks east of the Longwood/Prospect/Westchester intersection).  

Here is a list of additional Health & Mental Health Resources, including resources that focus specifically on theater, dance, music, fine arts, etc. 

Cash Assistance

· The federal COVID-19 stimulus program provides that each New Yorker making up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income will receive a one-time payment of $1,200, plus $500 per dependent minor child, which should be automatically direct deposited or mailed to you in April. The amount will be phased out for income between $75,000 and $99,000, based on your 2018 adjusted gross income. Though the 2019 tax filing deadline is deferred until July 15 without penalty, if you did not file a 2018 tax return, you must file a 2019 tax return before you receive the cash payment. More info at the Internal Revenue Service Coronavirus Tax Relief and Economic Impact Payments page.

· New York City residents needing additional cash assistance can visit the New York City Human Resources Administration ACCESS HRA to apply for Family Assistance (FA) and Safety Net Assistance (SNA), Fair Fares, SNAP (food stamps) etc. 


· There is a 90-day evictions moratorium in New York State for both private and public housing, including NYCHA and section-8 housing. You cannot be evicted for non-payment from now until at least mid-June. That does not mean that you are protected from eviction after the moratorium is lifted or that you will not be responsible for back-payment of rent after those 90 days.

· There is a bill in the New York State Senate and Assembly that would suspend rent payments for residential and commercial tenants facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. That bill has not yet passed.

· New York State has deferred mortgage payments for 90-days for single and two-family homeowners. You can contact your lender for information about how to request forbearance.

· If you are a New York City resident who is having difficulty paying your rent, you may qualify for a rental assistance program. You can learn more about NYC Rental Assistance Programs and also call the Met Council on Housing’s Tenant Hotline at 212-979-0611 to receive individual advice and recommendations.

Child Care

 Are you an essential worker in need of childcare? The City is offering free childcare for the children of essential workers, with at least two sites in every school district. Childcare will be offered Monday-Friday, from 7:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. The centers will provide children with three daily hot meals, remote learning time with their teachers, activities like art, music, and physical education, and social and emotional support.   

Essential workers who are New York City residents and would like to enroll in one of these centers need to complete this REC Enrollment Form. The form needs to be completed for every child, and the worker will then receive an email confirming your child’s center assignment. 


· There is a moratorium on utility shut-offs in New York State. 

· If you are having difficulty paying your electric and heating bills, you may qualify for emergency assistance program under the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)

· Comcast is currently offering two months of free internet to certain low-income residents impacted by COVID-19, and Spectrum is offering free access to certain student households.

· For low-income New Yorkers, Lifeline offers up to $9.25 per month off of your phone bill.  

· Your credit card company may be able to offer some payment assistance. has a page with a brief rundown of what might be available.

· If you anticipate difficulty paying a utility bill, you can contact your provider to see if they offer a payment deferral plan.

Food Access

· Grab and Go Meals Expanding for All New Yorkers: In this time of historic high unemployment, more New Yorkers are experiencing food insecurity for the first time. So the City will be expanding “grab and go” meals for all New Yorkers. No one will be turned away. Anyone who shows up will be able pick up three meals. The hours are 7:30 - 11:30 am for families and children, 11:30 - 1:30 for adults. Details are on the NYC Dept of Education website, or text “NYCFOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877.

· If you need emergency food assistance, call the Emergency Food Hotline at 866-888-8777 or check this website for local food pantry or communal kitchen where you can receive groceries, fresh produce or hot meals at no cost. There is no income limit for emergency food. (NOTE: In the "search" function enter your street address, city and state, not just a zip code.)

· To apply for SNAP (food stamp) benefits, you can visit ACCESS HRA.

Student & Medical Debt

· Federal Student Loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for 60 days. You may also suspend payments entirely for two months without accruing interest. You can learn more at

· There is a hold on all collection of medical and student debt to the State of New York through April 15, 2020, which includes suspension of accrued interest. The NYS Debt Collection Suspension page has more information. 

· As of now, other forms of medical debt and student loans must be paid as usual, but you can contact your loan provider to see if they have policies in place to provide relief.

Legal Assistance

· For general civil matters, you can contact Legal Aid NYC.

· For specific matters related to the arts, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts provides free or low-cost legal services. You can learn about their services at the website or call 212-319-2787.

· Lawyers for Good Government are launching a program to provide pro bono legal clinics for small businesses. 

Many thanks to the Freelancers Union, New York Legal Services and the Office of Councilman Brad Lander helping to compile much of this information.  Child Care