CARES Act allows the unemployed to take on a side gig and still collect benefits – here’s why you should tread carefully

By Elisabeth Buchwald

April 6, 2020

If you’re one of the 6.6 million Americans who filed for unemployment benefits last week there’s a good chance you’re anxiously waiting for a check to arrive in the mail. In the meantime, you might consider taking on gig work. What you may have given less consideration to is how that might affect your ability to collect unemployment benefits. The CARES Act attempts to tackle that.

Last week, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in response to businesses closing in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, and provides $2.2 trillion to help businesses and individuals weather the storm. Its goal is to provide a bridge for the economy, as people either work from home or are furloughed (without pay).

The CARES Act temporarily increases weekly unemployment benefits for laid off workers by $600 a week for up to four months, in addition to existing state benefits. But while state unemployment offices rush to process a surge in unemployment applications, they must also answer a more complicated question: How much gig work disqualifies a person from receiving unemployment?

Some 76% of freelancers reported having contracts or gigs canceled by clients, according to a recent report published by the Freelancers Union, which represents 57 million independent workers. The Freelancers Union launched the Freelancers Relief Fund, which will offer up to $1,000 in financial aid to help freelancers afford necessities “not covered by government relief programs.”

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