‘Horrible experience’: Self-employed struggle to get benefits


The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is meant to help self-employed workers

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Many self-employed Oregonians are still struggling to get unemployment benefits despite federal legislation. 

The Oregon Employment Department said it has processed thousands of claims for people who don’t qualify for regular benefits, like those who are self-employed. It now has a dedicated section on its website for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. 

The program is meant to help people like Bob Amend and Debi Aggas. Both were self-employed before the pandemic and now have gone nearly three months without any income. The couple hasn’t been able to get any unemployment benefits. 

Aggas said her husband applied for benefits at the end of March. 

“From March 22 until now, he has filled out the weekly reports, he has done everything that they’ve asked him to do,” Aggas said. “We have not received anything from the unemployment office whatsoever.” 

Aggas and Amend have had an equally difficult time trying to get ahold of anyone at the employment department to ask for help. 

“My husband has spent up to 11 hours on hold with them and we have yet to talk to a person,” Aggas said. 

“That’s been a real horrible experience,” Amend said. “Of course they never answer their phone, I’ve stayed on it for quite a long time.” 

Those who are self-employed or who are independent contractors will need to file an application through the PUA program instead of filing through the traditional unemployment insurance claims process. 

People who were approved for the PUA program started receiving benefits last week. 

The Oregon Employment Department said it’s working on improving PUA and plans to start calling and emailing people about their claims. 

But the process has already been dragged out long enough for Amend and Aggas. 

“There are just too many people that are being devastated and the money is supposed to be there for the reason of being able to help self-employed people out—and we just can’t access it,” she said. 

House Speaker Tina Kotek’s office would like to hear from anyone who applied for PUA in March and still haven’t received any benefits. Click here to learn more.

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