Photographer Kelli Wilke has spent the last 25 years capturing weddings and taking professional headshots for business clients. With hundreds of clients and a growing list of referrals, Wilke hasn’t ever had to worry about economic downturns.
But like many self-employed, this year her business essentially stopped in mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic swept the country, causing all of her spring brides to postpone their nuptials and leaving clients with summer wedding plans up in the air.
And with stay-at-home orders under Delaware’s State of Emergency still in place, all Wilke can do is wait for things to improve and hope that business will pick back up again soon.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I never had another job — even in ’08 – ‘09. But my situation is very different now. I am literally paid per job, so when I’m not working I’m not getting paid,” she said.
Wilke was finally able to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance on May 11 – 8 weeks after the State of Emergency went into place. The Delaware Department of Labor opened up its COVID unemployment benefits system today to freelancers, independent contractors and the self-employed.
“As an independent contractor, we’re at more risk. There is literally no one to fall back on. No one else is giving us any unemployment,” said Wilke.
If Wilke’s application is approved, she will be paid at least the minimum weekly benefit amount.
According to the Delaware Department of Labor, workers eligible for PUA benefits could receive anywhere from $733 to $1000 per week in total benefits.
The state’s minimum weekly benefit amount is $133 per week, it can be as high as $400 if documentation is provided to support a higher weekly benefit amount. This is in addition to $600 per week in Federal payments.
In order to begin processing claims for the self-employed, the Federal US Department of Labor required that states design new systems to prevent fraud and ensure the validity of their claims.
The Delaware Department of Labor (DOL) worked for the past several weeks to design and test new technologies that would integrate with their existing benefits claims system.
Wilke said the process was easy, but she wishes the system had been up and running weeks ago.
“I applied twice before not knowing that the self-employed weren’t included in the original CARES Act,” said Wilke.
While she’s waiting for things to pick back up, Wilke says she’s been doing a lot of marketing, personal projects like FaceTime portraits, updating her website and just enjoying time with her kids.
How do independent contractors apply?
Under federal guidelines for the PUA, workers must first apply for benefits through the traditional unemployment system and get denied.
Applicants will then receive a letter of denial for traditional unemployment benefits, which will trigger a second letter explaining their potential eligibility for PUA and specific instructions on how to apply.
Submit your initial claim for Unemployment Benefits today using the current unemployment insurance benefits application system at www.ui.delawareworks.com.
You must first create an account and receive a claim number created in the existing system before submitting your application to receive PUA benefits. Again, if you have already completed this step, you will receive a letter with further instructions.
What are the eligibility requirements?
- You have been diagnosed with or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
- A member of your household has been diagnosed with the virus
- You are providing care for a family member or a member of my household with the virus
- A child or other person in your household for which I have primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the pandemic
- You are under an imposed quarantine and cannot work
- You have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine and cannot work
- You were scheduled to commence employment are unable to reach the job as a direct result of the pandemic
- You have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of my household has died because of the virus
- You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19, or your place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency