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.
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%).
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.
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.