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Photo: Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Photo: Michael Bryant/The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Relief for Pennsylvania’s gig and freelance workers is finally here

Pennsylvania’s new unemployment system is said to be “fully operational” by the end of the week

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Adding to already dismal nationwide unemployment numbers from March, April added up to 22 million new unemployment filings.

No state has been hit harder in the unemployment category than Pennsylvania since shutdowns began in states in mid-March. Since then, approximately 1.7 million Pennsylvanians have applied for traditional unemployment, with 70% getting benefits, according to WHYY.

But beyond those who lost traditional jobs who could apply for unemployment, is another population of workers who’ve been left to fend for themselves.

Pennsylvania, and the U.S. in general, is also home to a large population of gig workers and freelancers that not only fill in some of the more individualized services out there, but also make up a huge portion of the creative economy that pumps out works of art and journalism that shape the public’s view of certain events like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many workers in this field, because of its freelance nature or reliance on gigs, could not apply for traditional unemployment.

As part of its portion of the CARES Act, Pennsylvania launched on April 18, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system. It was designed for those part of the freelance or gig economy, who, as said before, are not eligible to apply for traditional unemployment benefits.

Since its announcement, more than 150,000 Pennsylvanians have applied through the portal for aid. It is also available in Spanish.

No aid has been distributed to date, leading to mounting criticism, but the state now says it will start at the end of this week. 

To help in the effort, state officials said they brought back 50 retirees and hired 250 new intake interviewers and no longer have a backlog of applications.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations, focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org

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