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Florida Gig Workers Wait on State for Federal Jobless Aid – NBC 6 South Florida

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A huge swath of Florida’s workforce continue to be stuck in limbo as state officials establish a new system that would allow gig workers and other independent contractors to collect weekly $600 checks promised by the federal government in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which operates the state’s unemployment system, has been under pressure to revamp its online benefits application portal — which officials have acknowledged was ill equipped to handle the deluge of applications from hundreds of thousands of newly jobless.

On Tuesday, the agency’s online dashboard suggested the state is picking up the pace in clearing the backlog of hundreds of thousands of unprocessed claims and had sent out nearly 95,000 benefit checks.

Of the 170,000 claims the state has processed, more than a fourth were rejected because the applicants did not meet state eligibility rules — suggesting that a quarter of that number were self-employed and would only be eligible for the federal supplemental money.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the state has begun mailing out the federal supplemental payments to those qualified for unemployment benefits under state rules, but agency officials acknowledged that the state’s troubled unemployment portal is not set up to generate the federal payments.

It was also not designed to handle applications from nontraditional workers who don’t normally qualify for state unemployment benefits.

Some studies suggest that gig workers and the self-employed comprise a fifth of the state’s workforce, but there are no firm numbers from official government tallies. Gig workers is a catch-all for temporary contract workers, including freelancers in an array of industries, including entertainment and high tech.

The federal government estimates there are 10.3 million Floridians in the civilian workforce, with about 8.6 million of them potentially eligible for unemployment insurance should they become out of work.

Drivers for Uber and Lyft, for example, don’t qualify for regular state unemployment checks, even though their earnings have been hard hit because there hasn’t been demand for ride-share services. But under the $2 trillion federal coronavirus aid package, they qualify for aid meant to ease the financial pain wrought by the outbreak.

“We’ve heard from drivers in the last few weeks across the state asking for guidance on how to apply for these benefits. Drivers are just looking for direction, because there has been some confusion out there about how to access these funds,” said Javi Correoso, a Miami-based spokesman for Uber.

As a result, the company is setting up online guides customized for each of the states in which it does business to help drivers navigate the benefits process.

“We know that going through government processes will be time-consuming and frustrating when the need is truly unprecedented,” Correoso said.

Under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, gig workers and other independent contractors are eligible for jobless benefits — but Florida officials have yet to spell out how it will implement the program.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity said last week that it would soon provide more information about how to apply, but has yet to do so.

The agency’s spokeswoman, Tiffany Vause, said gig workers can apply for regular state benefits through the current system. She said those applications will likely be denied, but their applications will be set aside and their information will be migrated into the system currently under development to handle federal pandemic claims.

But with the state’s computer systems still under strain, it remains to be seen how smooth that process will be.



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Startup Civvl recruits cash-strapped gig workers to help landlords evict tenants

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A startup is enlisting cash-strapped gig workers to help landlords evict tenants who can’t make rent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Civvl has been posting Craigslist ads in cities across the country, including Denver, Los Angeles and Nashville, boasting pay as high as $125 an hour to individuals willing to work as process servers and promising that “there is plenty of work due to the dismal economy.”

“Unemployment is at a record high and many cannot or simply are not paying rent and mortgages,” the posting, which was first spotted by Vice, reads. “We are being contracted by frustrated property owners and banks to secure foreclosed residential properties.”

The listing calls for workers who are a minimum of 18 years old, and brags that it provides a “true flexible schedule” and a “minimal background check.” The average Civvl worker, the post says, completes six jobs a day.

Other open positions include clean out crews, eviction crews and independent contractors.

Civvl’s website featured a fake quote from The New York Times, Vice reported, claiming that “too many people stopped paying rent and mortgages thinking they would not be evicted.”

Civvl couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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Unemployment in Pennsylvania: Gig workers, independent contractors could see delayed benefit payments – News – poconorecord.com

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A surge in suspicious new claims filed late last week will stall payments to first-time applicants to a federal unemployment program for gig workers and independent contractors.

The unexplained increase in claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is believed to be part of an ongoing fraud scheme, Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said during a media update Monday.

The payout delay will not impact Pennsylvanians who are receiving payments through the other unemployment program programs. PUA beneficiaries with prior approved open claims also are not impacted.

On Thursday and Friday the number of new PUA claims filed in the state jumped to more than 20,000, four times higher than the average number of weekly new claims filed since the coronavirus pandemic began in the state.

Most of the new claims were from out-of-state, one of the hallmarks of the PUA fraud, which prompted officials to flag them for further investigation, Oleksiak said.

The department has met with its third-party vendor and authorities to develop stronger anti-fraud and identification verification methods, but there is no timeline for how long it will delay new claim payments, Oleksiak said.

“We will do it as quickly and effectively as possible,” he added. “We know the PUA program is a lifeline for many families, and we want these Pennsylvanians to be able to access support as quickly as possible during this time of hardship.”

More Coverage:: Unemployment in Pennsylvania: State approved for $2.8B loan for trust fund

Individuals who applied for PUA benefits for the first time on Thursday and Friday are affected by the delay, but officials have not ruled out double checking claims filed earlier in the week.

Unemployment officials suspect that criminals targeted the PUA program because it lacks safeguards that are in place for the state’s regular unemployment program.

PUA is the federally funded program created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that pays unemployment benefits to individuals who otherwise don’t qualify for state benefits because they are self-employed.

Claimants self-certify that they are unemployed as a result of the ongoing coronavirus, but they do not go through the same checks to prove they are qualified as claimants in the traditional unemployment program, Oleksiak said.

The biggest difference in the federal and the state-run unemployment programs involves the back-dating of claims, which was done to speed up delivery of benefits, said Susan Dickinson, director of the Office of Unemployment Benefits Policy.

The federal government ordered states to backdate everyone to the last day they worked without first verifying the information, which increased the potential for fraud, Dickinson said.

Pennsylvania is among other states where scammers began filing PUA claims under stolen identities using personal information taken through previous data breaches that occurred outside of state government. The scam started shortly after the PUA program opened.

Pennsylvania and other states implemented security measures to help identify and prevent payout for fraudulent claims including shutting down the automatic backdating in the PUA system.

The security measures reduced the overall number of PUA claims filed, until last week, Oleksiak said.

Federal and state authorities last month charged 33 people, including eight inmates in Pennsylvania prisons and Allegheny County jail with COVID-19 benefit fraud.

Pennsylvania officials recently found the names of an additional 10,000 state prison inmates on Pennsylvania’s unemployment rolls, though it’s unclear whether those people were aware that jobless claims had been filed on their behalf. The fraud was uncovered by U.S. postal inspectors, who noticed a large volume of mail arriving at homes that are abandoned or being sold.

California authorities announced they have arrested 44 people in Beverly Hills so far this month who were allegedly attempting to intercept fraudulently obtained debit cards obtained by using stolen identities. Many of those arrested were from out-of-state.

Also Monday, Oleksiak said Pennsylvania has already paid $1.5 billion of the $2.8 billion it received in federal Lost Wage Assistance program. The federal government is expected soon to announced an end-date for claims to be filed.

The program funded with disaster relief money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $300 a week additional in unemployment compensation to eligible beneficiaries.

The temporary program closed on Sept. 5, but beneficiaries may still be eligible for a lump sum payment of up to six weeks or $1,800.

More Information: Unemployment in Pennsylvania: Not all eligible will get $300 federal benefit

Were you scammed?

Pennsylvanians who believe their identity was stolen and used to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits can report the theft. Pennsylvanians who have received unemployment benefits they did not apply for should not use the funds and instead follow the directions on returning them.

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Unemployment in Pennsylvania: Gig workers, independent contractors could see delayed benefit payments

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Socso awareness amongst gig workers still low – New Straits Times

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