Stuck in limbo, self-employed Mainers wait for the federal government for assistance

While many unemployed Mainers are waiting for delayed benefit payments, and others struggle to file a claim, those who do not qualify for state unemployment are left in limbo.Mainers who are self-employed, contractors, freelance or gig workers may not qualify for state unemployment benefits. They are the focus of one of three sweeping federal programs, but that program has not been launched yet.Deseray Irish is the co-owner of “Hair Haven” stylists in Brewer, which had to shut down. Because she is self-employed, she does not qualify for state unemployment. And with no employees, she does not qualify for the federal payroll protection program. She is now waiting on the federal government.”When we’re going to apply, and even what it looks like, when we do apply, we have no idea if we are even going to get half of what our income would be,” Irish said.In late March, Congress signed a $2.2 trillion relief package, including three new pandemic unemployment plans. One adds 13 weeks to benefits that run out, another adds $600 a week to existing benefits, and a third offers 39 weeks of benefits to those like Deseray who do not qualify for the other programs.The benefits will be retroactive to February 2, but it is still unclear when they will start being disbursed.Meanwhile, others are still waiting to get their Maine state unemployment claims processed. “As of today, we still have no response from unemployment whatsoever,” said Tammy Thibodeau, who, along with her daughter, were let go from a local pastry business.The state unemployment website says the Thibodeaus do not have any active claims, so they cannot submit weekly certifications. But they also cannot file a new claim because the system thinks they have one pending.”So neither of us can anticipate the possibility of income. My fear is when somebody does talk to me I’m going to be denied for not following a rule that I’m supposed to,” Thibodeau said.Others say while they’re frustrated, they understand that the influx is more than the government is designed to handle.A spokesperson with the Maine Department of Labor said they are adding close to 100 people to answer phones this week.

While many unemployed Mainers are waiting for delayed benefit payments, and others struggle to file a claim, those who do not qualify for state unemployment are left in limbo.

Mainers who are self-employed, contractors, freelance or gig workers may not qualify for state unemployment benefits. They are the focus of one of three sweeping federal programs, but that program has not been launched yet.

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Deseray Irish is the co-owner of “Hair Haven” stylists in Brewer, which had to shut down. Because she is self-employed, she does not qualify for state unemployment. And with no employees, she does not qualify for the federal payroll protection program. She is now waiting on the federal government.

“When we’re going to apply, and even what it looks like, when we do apply, we have no idea if we are even going to get half of what our income would be,” Irish said.

In late March, Congress signed a $2.2 trillion relief package, including three new pandemic unemployment plans. One adds 13 weeks to benefits that run out, another adds $600 a week to existing benefits, and a third offers 39 weeks of benefits to those like Deseray who do not qualify for the other programs.

The benefits will be retroactive to February 2, but it is still unclear when they will start being disbursed.

Meanwhile, others are still waiting to get their Maine state unemployment claims processed.

“As of today, we still have no response from unemployment whatsoever,” said Tammy Thibodeau, who, along with her daughter, were let go from a local pastry business.

The state unemployment website says the Thibodeaus do not have any active claims, so they cannot submit weekly certifications. But they also cannot file a new claim because the system thinks they have one pending.

“So neither of us can anticipate the possibility of income. My fear is when somebody does talk to me I’m going to be denied for not following a rule that I’m supposed to,” Thibodeau said.

Others say while they’re frustrated, they understand that the influx is more than the government is designed to handle.

A spokesperson with the Maine Department of Labor said they are adding close to 100 people to answer phones this week.