Coronavirus crisis: Self-employed workers forced to wait months to apply for unemployment in California

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Millions of furloughed employees have relied on unemployment to survive amid COVID-19, but those who are currently self-employed don't have access to the same benefits.

"It's frustrating, it's frustrating," said Raegan Shigeyoshi, a veteran hair stylist working in San Francisco. "But we can't do anything about it."

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Like many in her position, Shigeyoshi hasn't been able to work since mandatory shelter-in-place orders.

"It will be two months since they've gotten us any cash," she said.

It's a similar situation for Tracy Anderson.

"Every day you're just trying to figure out how you're going to make it," said Anderson, a hair stylist working in Burlingame.

Both women are at a disadvantage because the state's Emergency Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) created for self-employed workers isn't set up yet. The online application portal won't be ready until next Tuesday, April 28. Yet, other furloughed workers have already been receiving benefits.

ABC7's Stephanie Sierra spoke to state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.

"What are you doing to address this?" Sierra asked.

"We will hold the agency accountable," he said. "It is not acceptable to have people wait this long and then to have a delay in the processing of their application."

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Sen. Wiener said he is working with his constituents to help them navigate the process.

According to the Employment Development Department (EDD) which is the state agency that administers unemployment, after approval benefits will be received between 2-7 days.

"The system is overwhelmed. Do you think that expectation is realistic?" Sierra asked.

"I really hope it is, the Secretary of Labor said that it's realistic," Sen. Wiener said. "The EDD has really ramped its capacity to handle phone calls, they're really drinking water from a fire hose."

The EDD has expanded phone hours from 4 to 8 hours on weekdays.

The online portal for PUA is expected to accept applications next Tuesday, April 28.

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