GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — The numbers are staggering.
Take every single person, on the busiest day in history at the Minnesota State Fair, and then double it. Now have every person form a single file line to file for unemployment insurance.
That's what the unemployment insurance folks at the state are grappling with right now as roughly 14 percent of Minnesota’s workforce is seeking out-of-work help from the government.
“I'm terrified that I'm not going to be able to open my salon again,” said Sheena Johnson, a cosmetologist in Apple Valley.
She is among the self-employed and independent contractors—representing about six percent of Minnesota’s workforce—who have received repeated unemployment application denials and few answers to their unemployment questions so far.
That’s because this segment of the workforce traditionally does not qualify for unemployment benefits, which makes this pandemic tricky and frustrating.
“I want to have faith that our government is going to come through,” said Johnson. “We've been out of work since March 17th, and we have nothing.”
According to the latest press conference from DEED Commissioner Steve Grove and a host of emailed answers to frequent viewer questions, here's what we know.
Congress made self-employed and independent contractors eligible for unemployment benefits through a new system called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program when it passed the CARES Act last month.
It’s modeled after the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program the federal government uses when a region is affected by a natural disaster.
This new system needs to be built from the ground up in each state as it has more complexities and potential for fraud than traditional unemployment insurance, according to DEED.
"We are working very closely with the Department of Revenue to build an automated process to speed up income verification,” said Grove. “The team is working around the clock on building a new technology platform and data sharing agreements to ensure we can get this money out quickly while also protecting our self against fraud. And unlike most states we're asking people who are self-employed, do apply now.”
You can apply, right now, through the state’s unemployment website, www.uimn.org.
Here are step-by-step instructions detailing how the self-employed should fill out the application.
DEED says you will be denied for now. That's normal, as the current system is built to deny the self-employed. But they are taking your information and will reach out to you when the new system is up, according to Grove.
DEED says that is expected to happen by April 30. Then, the self-employed could potentially start receiving money about a week later. The payments will be retroactive to whenever you were forced to stop working because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The message: Hang in there. Help is coming.
DEED asks that small business owners look into other assistance options like payroll assistance and emergency, low-interest loans.
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.