OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The federal CARES Act promises unemployment benefits for the first time to gig workers and the self-employed. However, the state's Employment Development Department was not set up to provide benefits for these workers -- at least not until now.
Self-employed and gig workers were relieved to hear they too could receive unemployment payments but the EDD wasn't ready to deliver -- leaving thousands still waiting for their first checks. We followed an East Bay hairstylist who came to 7 On Your Side for help.
LIFE AFTER COVID-19: Here's what restaurants, gyms, schools, sports will look like when they reopen
Just weeks ago, Alicia Orabella's Oakland hair salon was buzzing.
"I can easily do 8 or 10 or more services in a 10-hour day," Orabella told us.
Here it is Tuesday -- empty, silent, banished by a pandemic.
"Our arms are only so long; there's no way we can stand six feet or more away from a client," said Orabella.
The work she'd been doing for 24 years was suddenly illegal -- forbidden -- a public health threat. All hair salons were ordered shut, and overnight her income was gone.
"The amount of tears that were shed and sleepless nights, we're never gonna get past that," she said.
So Orabella did something she's never done before. She applied for unemployment.
"As a self-employed individual, it's never been an option," she said.
The federal CARES Act extended benefits for the first time to gig workers and the self-employed.
But for weeks, actually getting benefits was impossible.
"We got to the part where it says are you willing and able to accept work, and I put 'no' 'cause we're in a pandemic. And that's an automatic denial," Orabella said.
The EDD application said she must be willing to work... while the state mandate said she must "not". It was a classic catch-22.
Unemployment in California: EDD answers questions about debit cards, wait times, how to get benefits during COVID-19
"If I could cut hair legally with a PPE hazmat suit I would do it, because I have never wanted to do it so bad as I do now," said Orabella.
Orabella and colleagues across the country shared tips on how to get past the roadblocks -- like"click 'yes' instead of 'no.'"
There are also tricks to get through on the phone.
"As soon as the phone picks up, you hit nine," Orabella demonstrated.
"The anxiety, just not being able to work, and then the stress of logging onto a website over and over -- am I doing something wrong? We were told we would get benefits. Why aren't we getting benefits?" she asked.
Many hairdressers wanted to give up, defy orders and cut hair on the sly -- Orabella did not.
"You have plenty of salons that are going rogue, specifically in Orange County. You've got them in Auburn. I have friends who say they drive by and see people working, and on one hand I understand... you've got family to feed and a roof over your head," Orabella said.
Instead, Orabella planned her reopening-in a new world. "I have a small salon, just two chairs, I took out my seating area," she said.
And then, hope. The EDD website opened a new portal for independent workers. Thousands swamped the website.
Last week Orabella finally got paid - through she says her friends still have not.
"That's why I felt guilty. At least I know I can pay rent June first," she said.
The EDD received 160,000 applications in the first 12 days since the portal opened for gig workers and the self-employed. EDD is promising to hire more workers to carry the load.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.
Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here
RELATED STORIES & VIDEOS:
- COVID-19 Help: Comprehensive list of resources, information
- INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: How close was CA to becoming a NY-level crisis?
- Live updates about coronavirus outbreak in US, around the world
- What will it take to get a COVID-19 vaccine and how will it be made?
- How California's COVID-19 cases stack up against other hot spot states
- Everything you need to know about the Bay Area's shelter-in-place order
- Coronavirus Timeline: Tracking major moments of COVID-19 pandemic in San Francisco Bay Area/
- List: Where can I get tested for COVID-19 in the Bay Area?
- COVID-19 Diaries: Personal stories of Bay Area residents during novel coronavirus pandemic
- Coronavirus Doctor's Note: Dr. Alok Patel gives his insight into COVID-19 pandemic
- What does COVID-19 do to your body and why does it spread so easily?
- Stimulus calculator: How much money should you expect from coronavirus relief bill
- WATCH: 'Race & Coronavirus: A Bay Area Conversation' virtual town hall about COVID-19 impact on Asian American community
- WATCH: 'Race & Coronavirus: A Bay Area Conversation' virtual town hall about COVID-19 impact on African American community
- WATCH: 'Race & Coronavirus: A Bay Area Conversation' virtual town hall about COVID-19 impact on Latino community
- What Bay Area tenants need to know about rent payments, eviction amid COVID-19 outbreak
- Here's how shelter in place, stay at home orders can slow spread of COVID-19
- Symptoms, prevention, and how to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak in the US
- List of stores, companies closing due to coronavirus pandemic
- Canceled late fees, free services available amid COVID-19 crisis
- Here's how you can help during COVID-19 pandemic
- How to maintain learning during school closures
- No masks but here are 100+ products that may help protect you against novel coronavirus germs
- Here's a look at some of history's worst pandemics that have killed millions