Puerto Rico’s self-employed population will be able to apply for unemployment benefits through the Labor Department starting April 28, agency Secretary Briseida Torres said.
The benefit will be available for first time for independent contractors through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program created through the CARES Act signed into law Mar. 27, to aid workers whose finances have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Puerto Rico PUA beneficiaries will receive between $66 and $190 a week. To that amount, the government will add another $600 a week for four months, applied retroactively to April 4, Torres said. There are about 170,000 self-employed workers in Puerto Rico, according to government estimates.
“Those already receiving unemployment benefits will see the additional amount retroactively as well,” she said.
Since the start of the mandatory lock-down in Puerto Rico on Mar. 16, the Labor Department has received 200,174 new unemployment claims, for which the agency has disbursed $56 million in benefits.
To qualify for PUA benefits, the applicant must not be eligible for regular unemployment benefits and be unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of certain health or economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The application process will be done online starting next Tuesday, said Torres, adding the agency is evaluating its call center hours to extend it to expand its capacity. Over the past few weeks, citizens have been vocal about their inability to submit unemployment applications online or over the phone with the agency.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said 44 mainland states are now paying the $600 additional weekly benefit provided by the Cares Act.
The available unemployment benefits are in addition to a $1,200 stimulus check that most local residents stand to receive under the same mandate.
Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Francisco Parés said the agency he heads is still in talks with the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Treasury to establish the mechanism to be used to disburse the aid in Puerto Rico.
Parés said eligible taxpayers will receive a notice over the weekend. The money will be disbursed in stages, with those who filed their 2019 tax returns benefiting first.