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THE FINE PRINT

Independent contractors, the self-employed, and ‘gig’ workers can now apply for state unemployment benefits

As self-employed workers, Uber and Lyft drivers are now eligible for Massachusetts unemployment benefits.
As self-employed workers, Uber and Lyft drivers are now eligible for Massachusetts unemployment benefits.Allison Zaucha/Bloomberg

Tens of thousands of workers who are self-employed, independent contractors, freelancers, or “gig" workers on Monday morning became eligible for the first time to apply for newly expanded unemployment insurance, the state announced.

Online applications are here.

The state began accepting online applications for unemployment benefits about 10 days ahead of the previously announced schedule.

Once applications are processed by the Department of Unemployment Assistance, recipients will begin to receive hundreds of dollars in weekly benefits.

The program, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, is funded under the federal $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which became law March 27. In addition to expanding eligibility, the CARES Act adds $600 in weekly benefits to laid-off workers and extends benefits for 13 weeks after the usual state cutoff of 26 weeks.

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PUA, besides expanding the types of jobs covered, reaches another group: those workers who otherwise would be deemed ineligible for not having worked long enough, or earned enough, before losing their jobs due to the pandemic.

The state unemployment agency had set April 30 as the date for accepting PUA applications, but moved it up with the completion of an upgrade of its computer platform.

“I’m proud of everything our team is doing to rapidly implement new programs," said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta.

Massachusetts, like other states, has been deluged with unemployment claims — almost 575,000 since mid-March, compared to 25,000 in the four weeks before the virus struck.

By Monday afternoon, there were mixed reports on how well the unemployment agency’s website was holding up. One reader e-mailed about being repeatedly “timed out” before she could complete her claim.

“What a nightmare!!” she wrote. (She later reported completing her application.)

But another sent a copy of a message he received from the agency: “Your claim has been submitted. You will receive an email when the claim has been processed.”

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“The PUA website is up and running,” he wrote.




Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to sean.murphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.