Drew Angus: A Gig Worker In The Pandemic

The coronavirus has shattered our lives. Millions of Americans have lost steady jobs. Federal and state governments are scrambling to help.

Aid is less certain for the millions more who relied on gig work. Uber drivers, handymen, artists– all have been caught in an economic limbo almost as scary as the disease itself.

Drew Angus is one of those gig workers. The 2007 Staples High School graduate is a musician whose performing, recording and teaching offered him steady, if sometimes unpredictable, sources of income.

All of that changed, in an instant. Drew writes:

It’s week 6  in quarantine for most people in Connecticut. For me, quarantine started earlier.  I received an email on March 1 from my largest client of: “All live music is cancelled through May 30. Sorry!”

Okay, I thought. We’ll work this out; just a bump in the road. Maybe I’ll move to Nashville, and see what it’s like down there.

A tornado struck the city the next morning. You can’t make this stuff up.

Drew Angus

The other day, I received another email from the same client. All live music is now canceled through August. It doesn’t come as a surprise this time. But it still stings.

I’m a full time musician. We exist. Most of us are not famous. Many support families.  We’re non-traditional, or gig, workers.

Wikipedia says gig workers are “independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers, and temporary workers.” We provide contracted services for a wide variety of clients, short and long term.

We’re musicians, graphic designers, industrial designers, doctors nurses and many more. A recent McKinsey study found that 25 to 30% of the US workforce falls into this category.

The way we’re taxed and paid is generally different from traditional W-2 workers with long-term employee-employer relationships.

One key difference: We don’t pay into unemployment. It’s not an option for us. (We do pay a self-employment tax of 15.3%, based on our gross income after business expenses. That goes to Social Security (12.4%) and Medicare (2.9%).

Drew Angus rocks.

The CARES Act came as a huge relief. For the first time, gig workers had access to unemployment, plus an additional $600 per week. That brought weekly relief into the $800 to $1000  a week range.

The bill offers self-employed individuals a $10,000 forgivable advance on an Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan that does not need to be paid back, even if the borrower does not qualify for an SBA loan.

I applied. Nothing. Not even a denial.

Additionally, the bill offers self-employed individuals a Payroll Protection Program loan through lenders like Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

As a sole proprietor I am essentially an employee of my own business. That qualifies me, so I tried to apply through Bank of America.

However, BOA does not accept applications from self-employed individuals without a business checking account opened prior to February 15, 2020. Most self-employed workers I know do not have a business checking account. Neither do I.

I heard that Fairfield County Bank was processing loans much more easily. However, there has been conflicting information about the effect these loans will have on unemployment funds for the self-employed. Out of fear, I did not apply.

Drew Angus in Staples High School, with fellow musicians Nick Yost and Josh King.

Early on in quarantine, I was on a Fidelity Equity webinar for entertainment industry professionals. They walked us through the entire loan process, and told us to set up a meeting if we wanted to learn more and apply for the loans.

I did. They said that based on my numbers, I could get a 100% forgivable PPP loan for $300,000, and a $10,000 advance on the EIDL disaster loan — but I had to pay $2,500 up front so they could set up the paperwork for me. 

To get these numbers, the Fidelity guy had me add up all of my own adjusted gross income and payroll, which he said should include 1099 contract labor.

He misled me. 1099 labor does not qualify for PPP, and there are strict measures in place for forgiving both loans, as specified in the CARES Act. He was shooting for the stars.

Last year I paid 44 musician contractors, and filed 1099s for 23 of those I paid over $500. Some of my guys rely on me for a large chunk of their income. My original thought was to get the PPP and/or EIDL to help them out first.

Which brings me to unemployment. It’s a total nightmare.

On March 27 I filed my Connecticut Department of Labor claim online. First I consulted its website. There were questions like “How many employers have you worked for in the last 18 months?” and “Name of Most Recent Employer (As Per Pay Stub)” and “Please provide the gross wages you earned during the week of XX through XX.”

That’s not the way the music business operates.

The department definitely works well for some people. Their website says they’ve processed 250,000 of the 370,000 claim applications recently received, and provided over $100 million in benefits.

On April 15, after weeks of reading daily COVID update emails from Senator Murphy and Congressman Himes, yet seeing zero information regarding self- employed unnemployment   funds, I called Himes’ office.

A staffer named Joseph called me 2 hours later. He that Connecticut was not responsible for unemployment funds for self-employed folks. We have to wait until the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system from the federal government is up and running on April 30 to file a claim.

On April 16  I got a letter from the Department of Labor. They have no wage records on file for the 2019 pay period, and need more information. I tried calling the number on the form. No one answered.

I did receive an email from the DOL. It said I was approved for the “Temporary Layoff/Temporary Shutdown Program,” and did not need to do anything else at that time. I don’t need to file a weekly form; money would apparently just show up. I never saw the money for that week.

On April 24 I got another DOL letter. They found my wages information for Q4 2018 through Q3 2019: a whopping $41.79. They were royalty checks from an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in 2017 (with fellow Westporter Nile Rogers).

Oh, yeah: I was denied benefits, for “insufficient wage credits.”

All l can do is wait and see. Meanwhile, rent is still due on May 1.

Oh, and that $1,200 stimulus check?

I’m still waiting.

38 responses to “Drew Angus: A Gig Worker In The Pandemic

  1. Well you don’t pay into unemployment so why should you get it. You qualify for a 300k loan that is forgiven? Did I understand that correctly? And your complaining. What a great country we live in! There’s an old expression “ I feel for you but i can’t reach”. Your profession is a valued one certainly but you chose it.

    • Hi Pete, You are correct. As a self employed individual, I don’t have an option to pay into UI and therefore *Should Not* receive UI. I’m on board with that. The CARES Act; however, now allows self employed individuals access to UI temporarily and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance bill adds an additional $600/week to eligible folks for 39 weeks. Wild. What a country we live in!

      On the loan, I should clarify that I would not have qualified for a $300,000 100% forgivable loan. It was early on and the loan officer told me to include all of the income from gigs, even the income I pay out to the 44 musicians I contracted for those gigs in 2019. But as it turns out, those musicians who are also self employed (several of whom count on my gigs for a large portion of their income), not my employees and are in the same boat as me. I couldn’t distribute the loan money to those musicians anyway. So no, I did not qualify for the loan. I hope this clears up any confusion.

      I was simply sharing an objective chronology of my experience thus far as a gig worker trying to access the pandemic assistance that our government has put in place. My story is not unique here, it’s just another one… there are many of us small business owners and gig workers out there with the same experience.

      Hope to see you out at a gig sometime.

  2. Guy in same boat

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. I have a feeling you made most of your money under the table, perhaps avoiding paying into a system that the rest of US pay into…. you know, money taken out of our checks every week, every month, for years and years on end…
    Sounds shocking to be US, doesn’t it?
    Of course, I could be wrong.

    • You are wrong, Bob. Drew pays estimated quarterly taxes. Like many young people just out of college, he was stunned at what he had to pay the first time he had an April 15 tax bill.

    • Hi Bob, I haven’t been honest with you. Last year I had 3 gigs I didn’t tell uncle sam about and honestly, the taxes on those $100 gigs are pretty minimal. I pay my taxes. Theres a Self Employment Tax just for people like me. – You get money out of your weekly paychecks, I pay estimated quarterlies as Dan mentioned.. I just have to keep track of what comes in and put extra aside in case I have a big month. Same difference. Just slightly less shocking when you pay small amounts over the year than one giant check on April 15th. Still shocking though in general.

      • Thanks Drew, I was wrong and I apologize.
        And just for the record, I too haven’t been honest….I graduated 42 years ago

  4. Wow Pete – a little more compassion isn’t the worse thing. The point is that the system isn’t set up for gig professionals. He pays taxes. He provides a service. He’s not asking for a handout. Just to be recognized financially the same as those who get W-2’s. The system is antiquated and there are more independent contractors that keep this economy going than you probably realize. So cut Drew some slack.

  5. The $300k PPP limit seems unreal if you have no employees and each self employed person is capped at 100k/year and you have only 2.5x one week’s income (of $100k) which would be a $4,808 PPP grant. As a self employed local person who has gotten bounced by the heartless and bureaucratic B of A I feel your pain. Yes, the system is not geared for Sched C people and rewards regular everyday W-2 workers and punishes independent innovative small time entrepreneurs. Regardless, when the CT DOL gets it’s act together and puts up the PUA app on it’s website today or tomorrow, JUMP ON IT. The $600/week FEd money till the end of July will be MUCH MORE than the $4,808 PPP money (which would exclude you from the PUA if you got it!) We all know how f’d up the DOL website and the processing will be when people catch on and flood the gates.Good luck and keep checking those red letters for new updates.

    • Thanks Ed… The Fidelity guy had me add up all of my own adj gross income and payroll out which he said should include 1099 contract labor. The guy mislead me, 1099 labor doesn’t qualify for PPP. He was shooting for the stars. The line is meant more to illustrate the confusion and lack of info and guidelines around all of these programs.

      Last year I paid 44 musician contractors and filed 1099’s for 23 of them who I paid over $500. Some of my guys rely on me for for a large chunk of their annual income and my original thought process was to get the PPP &/or EIDL to help them out first.

      Tomorrow will either be like Christmas with a side of relief, or just another disappointment until it finally works.

      I’m glad this lit a bit of a fire, because It’s more clear than ever that the government needs to have a better understanding of how even independent innovative small time entrepreneurs exist within their system. I hope this pandemic becomes a learning opportunity and creates a little change in the way the system works with.

  6. Oops. I miscalculated the PPP amount. Max is 2.5 x one month. I mistakenly put one week’s number. So the PPP limit would be $20,833 of which $16,667 goes toward self employ profit/”payroll.” The rest can be for rent if you rent office space (?) and health insurance if you have a group plan (not likely if you don’t have employees). It seems like the Federal PUA may be more obtainable but who knows?

  7. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    Thank you Drew for sharing this difficult journey with us. It illustrates the loop holes in the system and how the “big guys” have advantages that leave out the others. I wish you well. Please check back in with Dan and give us an update.

  8. This is heartbreaking and I really feel for Drew and the millions of other gig economy workers nationwide. But even worse is the harsh words from Pete Mihalick and Bob Stalling. Really charming, gentlemen. Your compassion just shines through. And Bob – your assumptions about how Drew has earned a living border on libelous. As I watch an entire generation of new college graduates face an economy where jobs simply don’t exist, seeing the gig economy that may be their only option collapse as well is devastating. I can only hope that things get better soon, but I’m certainly not confident. And as my husband likes to say, “Hope is not a strategy.”

    • Ah, I see, so having an opinion or making an assumption based on what was written and then following it with “I could be wrong” assumes my compassion based on yours and is also borderline libelous…
      Land Of The Free!
      Here’s what I read :
      – “They found my wages information for Q4 2018 through Q3 2019: a whopping $41.79”
      – “Oh, yeah: I was denied benefits, for “insufficient wage credits.

      If I’m wrong then I’m wrong…I can live with that.

      • Bob, those were just the ones reported through W-2 (or maybe W-9) forms. As I said, Drew pays regular quarterly taxes based on what he’s paid for his many gigs. No one fills out a form when they pay a band at a wedding or a concert. However, he is scrupulous about reporting his income, and pays taxes based on that. He’s trying to make the point that the current system is not set up to help people who don’t have W-2 or W-9 forms. And it’s not just him — it’s delivery people, Uber drivers, artists, etc., etc., etc.

        Drew is a regular taxpayer, trying to get some help for some of the money he’s paid in. Unlike cruise ship operators and other big corporations who manage to somehow never have much of a tax bill.

        • Hi Dan,
          Like I said from the very first comment, if I’m wrong then I’m wrong, though I believe I’m the only one who noticed I said it.
          Regarding delivery and Uber, my 20 year old son, who took time off from college to work and save money to pay down his first year student loans and his used car…worked in Fairfield delivering for a local pizza place and also for Uber eats delivering to the late night Fairfield University and Sacred Heart crowd….6 days/nights a week. He filed his return on line and received money back from both the Fed and State. So not sure how that works…
          He recently applied for and got a job cleaning up Tornado damage in Chattanooga Tennessee where he works (7) 13 hour shifts a week and is sleeping in his car in a Walmart parking lot…opting for an Airbnb every 3rd night so he can shower and laundry. It’s a 3 month gig.
          He will be going back to school in Fall…with first year loans paid off, car paid off, an emergency fund, and cash to spare.
          After reading some of the replies, I can’t help but feel he obviously got his lack of compassion for struggling, hard working people from his Dad….and I take full responsibility for that.

          • Bob, your son sounds amazing. He definitely has the work ethic that your parents passed on to their boys, and through them to their grandkids. I know they would be very, very proud!

      • Hi Bob, Just want to clear some things up. In context, those statements appear towards the end of my chronological experience as a gig worker attempting to use the system that the government asked us to use to get assistance during shutdown.

        What you say you read is really meant to illustrate that the system doesn’t understand Gig-Work.

        Unemployment found ONLY my W-2 work those quarters. The *W-2* money I earned during that time was via Royalty Checks from Universal Music Group for $41. 99.99% of my income comes from 1099 gigs… a format that UI was never built to understand.

        Does that make more sense?

  9. Donna Rosenfeld

    Dan, I suspect many of us would be happy to forward the story of Drew’s plight directly to those responsible for the State meltdown of this system and the CEOs of the banks that are obstructing what should be a seamless flow of funds. Would you consider furnishing your readers with contact information for the key people charged with this responsibility? Maybe if their inboxes are flooded with enough of a public outcry, the system might be fixed.

  10. I would also say that the last two months during this crisis has given me an even greater appreciation for musicians, artists, actors, writers, directors and others in the creative field who have been able to keep us occupied and entertained as we sit at home.

  11. Hi Dan,

    I had read your blog and would like to help. I had reached out to a local friend who is the head of an art foundation and was hoping to hear that Drew would qualify to receive a grant though them; however, just received a reply that he wouldn’t. My friend then proceeded to inform me that there are many funds to which musicians like Drew can apply and will send me a list later today. You may want to reach out to him to instill some hope as I don’t know how to reach him directly. Hopefully, I will write once again when I have the list.

    Warmly, Marina

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  12. It is the same here in Minnesota. My wife and I have a small creative agency here and Covid19 has wiped out the live events we produce both in the US and outside of the US. We have kept our team of W-2 employees on payroll, and I cannot say enough about this: the PPP helps tremendously. With our team employed and no paying work, we have the entire staff is focused pro-bono on a series of May 5 virtual fundraising events for the Crisis Nursery here.
    But the rest of our team, a cadre of independent actors, writers, musicians, cameramen, technicians, designers and craftspeople are left without support. They work for us project-to-project as independent contractors, typically 300-800 hours in a year. And Bob, you are not correct. These people all work hard applying their trade day-in and day-out. On top of all other taxes, they pay an additional 7.65% SE themselves, which as with unemployment costs is otherwise paid by the employer on behalf of a W-2 employee. And that work, that project which fills their day with work, does not show up as “wage credits.” That is why only $41.79 would show up in the system despite working and being paid for a full schedule. That is how life works for a professional musician, actor, and others in the US. Without that “system,” I dare say you would not have live music. Example: the musician at the last wedding you attended: for him or her that was not a full-time job for which you or the organizer paid employment taxes. But it how that musician makes a living.
    There has been much talk about extending benefits to gig workers either through unemployment or PPP loans, but neither seems to have become reality.

  13. Elizabeth Thibault

    There is a charity that assists musicians, the Sweet Relief Musician’s fund. (https://www.sweetrelief.org/) Maybe they could help Drew with a grant?

    Those who are being unkind forget the contributions and enrichment that the arts bring us. Writing and reporting (like Dan’s blog, or books you read,) the actors who tread the boards at the Playhouse, Broadway, or on shows and movies, musicians who create great sounds for us at festivals, intimate shows, who accompany famous singers, who provide the background for almost every TV commercial, show, and movie… It takes incredible effort to turn talent into product, and diminishing this work because it’s not your idea of a responsible job is really disappointing.

  14. Dan, Can you please share the link below with Drew. I hope this helps. He probably already knows all about these various options but you never know. Thx

    https://www.nyfa.org/Content/Show/Emergency%20Grants

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  15. Tomorrow is the day the CT DoL releases info for indie contractors/1099 workers. Like a few other states, the DoL systems were programmed with COBOL. Yup it’s an old language but my coding geek friends say it is still a good product.
    Okay away from the code monkey stuff. Drew there’s a webinar tomorrow at 10:50 am. I imagine a lot of clarity will be presented as to what people in your circumstance can do and are eligible to do. As noted, normally 1099 workers do not get UI. The pandemic is exceptional circumstances changing the status quo.
    The webinar (it convertided to plain text):
    :
    CT DoL is having a webinar tomorrow morning. Hopefully they will get things cleared up.

    This is a reminder that “CTDOL’s UI Weekly Webinar (4/30/20)” will begin in 1 Day on:
    Thu, Apr 30, 2020 10:50 AM – 12:00 PM EDT
    Add to Calendar: Outlook® Calendar | Google Calendar™ | iCal®
    Please send your questions, comments and feedback to: mohammodu.giwa@ct.gov
    How to Join the Webinar
    1. Click the link to join the webinar at the specified time and date:
    Join Webinar
    Note: This link should not be shared with others; it is unique to you.
    Before joining, be sure to check system requirements to avoid any connection issues.
    2. Choose one of the following audio options:
    TO USE YOUR COMPUTER’S AUDIO:
    When the webinar begins, you will be connected to audio using your computer’s microphone and speakers (VoIP). A headset is recommended.
    –OR–
    TO USE YOUR TELEPHONE:
    If you prefer to use your phone, you must select “Use Telephone” after joining the webinar and call in using the numbers below.
    United States: +1 (415) 655-0052
    Access Code: 588-236-511
    Audio PIN: Shown after joining the webinar
    Webinar ID: 884-126-947
    To Cancel this Registration
    If you can’t attend this webinar, you may ————- at any time.

  16. Drew – I’m a Realtor and in the same boat as you. CT REALTORS just sent out the following text to me – the Department of Labor just announced a 2 step process for independent contractors and gig workers to apply for PUA. They said “Step 1 (now) is apply and get denied for regular UI (I think you have already done this) using BLUE button: http://bit.ly/3f6fMVN . I haven’t checked it out yet, but I hope this helps you out. Good luck.

  17. Drew, here’s a bit more.
    I sat through the CT Dept of Labor webinar. No real new info except that independent contractors will not be receiving any assistance from the State.
    We will be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that is funded at the Federal level.
    After listening to the webinar, I called one of the CT DoL help line numbers and got through to a rep. He confirmed we will not get State help and that a link for applying for PUA is not up and running yet. He said that the old software had no way to handle and indie contractor filing, which is part of the problem. It might be tomorrow and with a little luck today. Because it is older legacy software, for the State, the PUA is a new build. What possible could go wrong there? :^)

    Also, I had an account that I could access yesterday. Unfortunately I cannot get in today. I tried a password reset and it said my User ID/account name did not exist. When I first filed on March 30, 2020 it displayed my last benefit payouts in 2002, so I do exist in the database, but I am an independent contractor. The person I talked with indicated my account was probably removed.

    Since this morning I’ve learned a bit more. There will be a “red button” to link to the application for PUA. From what I understand, it will not be on the CT DoL site until next week. I would keep checking perhaps in the morning and late afternoon.

  18. And this from CT News Junkie:
    Hello friends – here is today’s briefing. Gov. Lamont is expected to be joined by the co-chairs of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, Dr. Albert Ko and Indra Nooyi.

    https://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/20200430_ct_covid-19_briefing_4_pm_thursday_april_30/

    We were also on a call earlier today with the Labor Department. Here’s our story on that call today: Unemployment Assistance For Self-Employed Won’t Be Ready Until ‘Mid-Next Week’ – https://bit.ly/35lMjCT

    Based on all the problems people are having with the unemployment system, the department has set up a new call center that has 25 people answering calls today, and will eventually be staffed by 60 people. The numbers are in the story linked above, as well as info for self-employed people about how to file.

  19. Drew, request free business mentoring at fairfield.score.org , a volunteer non-profit affiliate of SBA. they mentor Gig workers & small business owners such as yourself. they are familiar with intricacies of PPP, EIDL, & PUA Cares Act. at SCORE, we are seeing much more responsive PPP lenders are small community banks and some fintech lenders such as paypal and kabbage.com YMMV …. fyi SCORE has 300 volunteer chapters around the country and are open to help Gig & small business owners navigate Cares Act.

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