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Unemployment gap leaves self-employed & gig workers hanging

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The additional $600 federal unemployment checks Floridians had been receiving on top of their state unemployment checks expired Friday.

That has left those in the state who are self-employed or reliant on the gig economy out in the cold. Even fiscally conservative groups are pleading with Congress to take action.

James Webb’s entertainment company was hit hard by the pandemic. “My revenues are down between 70 and maybe 88 percent,” Webb said.

Webb applied for unemployment back in April, but because he’s self-employed he doesn’t qualify for state benefits — only the $600 federal benefits.

“And I still haven’t seen a dime,” he said.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the state’s unemployment benefits, did not immediately answer questions about whether individuals like Webb will receive any back pay.

Even if Webb does receive back pay for what he’s owed, the future looks bleak as the federal unemployment assistance has lapsed.

“I did my job back in March when I was told to stay at home,” Webb said. “And I feel like that I’ve been slapped in the face for doing that.”

Republicans want to reduce the $600 checks, fearing that some people aren’t going back to work because they’re taking home more money from unemployment than they would with their jobs.

But even the fiscally conservative Florida TaxWatch wants to see the federal unemployment aid extended.

“We don’t have many choices,” said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of the organization. “We either continue this and help ordinary Americans, and particularly Floridians, or have more draconian structural damage to our employment system.”

For his part, Webb said even if some individuals are getting more from unemployment assistance than they would from their day jobs, there are many people like him who are struggling to get help they badly need.

“If you’re going to make all of these rules and restrictions, then you know what? You kind of have to help the people that need it,” he said.

Nearly $8 of every $10 dollars the state has paid out in unemployment are from the federal unemployment program. That’s just shy of $10 billion in total.