Unemployment For Self-Employed Photographers

Posted on 4/1/2020 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The good news is that under the new Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act virtually all self-employed freelance photographers should be able to qualify to receive $600 in federally funded COVID-19 pandemic benefits for up to 13 weeks. In addition, some may also qualify for up to 26 weeks of regular state unemployment.

Based on the CARES Act each adult who filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 should automatically receive $1,200 in roughly three weeks. In addition, roughly $250 billion has been set aside to provide extended federal unemployment benefits of $600 per week for up to 13 weeks. This program extends coverage to those who ordinarily would not qualify for state unemployment, including the self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers.

The bad news is that it may not be easy to apply for the extended federal benefits.

To receive this expanded Pandemic Unemployment Insurance (PUI) you will need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance office in the state where you live (and hopefully work). The first problem photographers may face is that in many cases the organizations employing them may not be located in the state, or maybe even the country, where they live or do the work. Normally, state unemployment offices deal mostly with workers who have been laid off from a job in their state.

For regular state unemployment claims the person making the claim must usually file in a state where the work was performed. But it is not uncommon for a photographer to perform work in one state for a company headquartered or located in a different state. That company pays unemployment insurance taxes in a different jurisdiction than where the work is performed. And it is those taxes that provide the revenue to pay regular unemployment benefits. With the PUI benefits the money comes from a separate federal fund. It is not clear how this problem will be handled, particularly when it is state officials analyzing a claim for federal money.

Another big problem is that all states are dealing with a heavy backlog of jobless claims which hit 3,283,000 in the week ending on 21 March. Some economists expect the number to reach 5.5 million in some weeks. In normal times total unemployment workers in all the states combined probably handle about 200,000 claims a week. Processing all these additional claims may be a nightmare.

When you file a claim, you will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment. Such a list may be very long for photographers who work a lot of one-day or half-day jobs for many different employers. For photographers who receive royalties from stock photo agencies, will it be satisfactory to just list the agency as the employer, or will the photographer need to determine, and list, each unique licensor of their images? To make sure your claim is not delayed, be sure to give complete and correct information.

It generally takes two to three weeks once a claim is filed before you receive your first benefit check.

It is unclear whether the government will only pay benefits until they declare the end of the quarantine, or for the full 13 weeks. Will they will continue to pay until there are enough clients requesting new photographic work that jobs are able to return to some type of normalcy? Photographers who qualify for pandemic benefits could receive as much as $7,800 from the federal government before the end of 2020.

Regular Unemployment

According to the Department of Labor, you need to meet two criteria to qualify for regular state unemployment: (1) You are unemployed through no fault of your own or out of a job due to reasons beyond your control. Many states are under mandatory “stay at home” orders which makes it virtually impossible for most photographers to work, or earn a living. Thus, freelance photographers should easily meet this qualification.

(2) You meet your state’s requirements for time worked or wages earned: Every state has different rules. For example, New York requires that you have worked in at least two calendar quarters of your “base period” (generally that just means the year before), be paid at least $2,600 in wages in one of those quarters, and during that period made a total of 1.5 times the amount you made in your highest-paid quarter that year.

The question here will be how your state interprets wages. Are they only “fixed regular payments, typically paid on a daily or weekly basis by an employer” or can they also be negotiated project payments?

I will be very interested to hear from any reader as to the successes they have in collecting Pandemic Unemployment Insurance benefits, or the difficulties they faced in trying to make such a claim.

Copyright © 2020 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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