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Gig worker’s tale: Economy craters, but Georgia pet groomer hopes to land on feet | Covid-19



Monday was JD Harrison’s birthday, but he didn’t have much cause for celebration.

“I’m not getting by, realistically speaking,” he said. “I don’t want to embarrass myself, but I’m not getting by.”

At the start of the year, Harrison was making $8,000 to $12,000 a month between his Smyrna-based mobile dog grooming business, Perfect Paws, and driving for Uber and Lyft on the side.

Now, he said he’s making closer to $4,000, and his payments come from the Georgia Department of Labor.

Harrison is one of nearly 1.8 million Georgians to apply for unemployment since COVID-19 began shutting down businesses in March.

That grim toll increases every Thursday lately, when the U.S. Department of Labor releases Georgia’s weekly jobless reports, documenting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Harrison said he started to notice business slowing down in late February, but calls came to a complete stop in March, around the same time pink slips began going out en masse across Georgia. During the week ending March 21, the number of Georgians filing new unemployment claims more than doubled.

“Business was so slow in March that eviction was inevitable,” Harrison said. “Between February and March, business was just insanely, ridiculously slow.”

That initial wave of layoffs was felt most intensely by workers in the restaurant, convention and hospitality industries, all of which are major components of Georgia’s economy. Now layoffs are spread much more widely, affecting office workers and manufacturers. On Tuesday, 300 employees of the Czarnowski marketing firm in Austell were added to the state’s Business Layoff/Closure Listing website. Atlanta’s Cox Automotive just announced it plans to furlough 12,500 workers this month.

Harrison applied for unemployment benefits in March, but at that time, the state Department of Labor was not set up to pay benefits to gig workers and independent contractors like him. That only became possible after the president signed the federal CARES Act in late March.

“The state of Georgia unemployment basically said, ‘OK, gig workers, we don’t have the system set up for you, we’re making it from scratch, so just accept holding on until April 22. You’ll be sent an email if you were denied unemployment for pandemic unemployment.’”

That’s what happened for Harrison – he said he got his email around April 22.

“After that, it took maybe two weeks for everything to get started to go through, but just think of having a 70% income drop from mid-February to April,” he said.

With scarcely any money coming in, Harrison lost his Atlanta apartment. He’s temporarily staying at an Airbnb until he can arrange something permanent.

Harrison said he’s not even trying to drive for Uber and Lyft right now because he does not want to risk getting sick. He’s still accepting clients for pet grooming, but finding few takers. Georgia’s close-contact businesses were among the first to reopen as part of Gov. Brian Kemp’s recovery plan, but not many Georgians are making a pets’ hair styling a high priority, Harrison said. 

“Grooming, I can pretty much control. I can control what clients I see, when, what kind of contact I have with them,” he said. “But if they don’t have the money to afford the luxuries us Americans love to say we have, when we can’t afford the luxuries, the people that provide the luxuries go out of business.”

Harrison is one of nearly 886,000 Georgians who filed continuing claims in the most recent reporting period, about 17% of the state’s March civilian labor force.

Continuing claims follow the first week of unemployment coverage, and they are a good measure of the state’s economic recovery, said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Georgia State University Economic Forecasting Center.

“They tell you the extent of the labor market damage that is going on,” Dhawan said. “People on continuing claims means they’ve been unemployed and they’ve been getting the insurance, they haven’t found a job and they haven’t been recalled if they’ve been furloughed. That tells you the ongoing damage.”

Speaking at a press conference following the release of last week’s numbers, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler predicted more bad news to come.

“I have a gut feeling when you see the numbers that are coming after this week, it’s going to be startling,” he said. “You’re going to probably see us eclipse the $3 billion mark, for the monies that we’ve sent out to help people here.”

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




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 –




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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