The coronavirus is expanding the safety net

The pandemic has exposed big holes in the country’s social safety net, openings that millions of people are now falling through. With nearly 10 million people filing unemployment claims in the past two weeks alone, the federal government is mounting an unprecedented emergency expansion of that safety net for workers…

“My hope is that we realize how constrained the current unemployment system is, that it is so inadequate in terms of covering the full range of workers we have now,” said Monica Halas, an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services who specializes in unemployment law…

No one knows until the federal guidelines are issued how much independent contractors… will be eligible to collect under the CARES Act. Halas, the Greater Boston Legal Services attorney, speculates that it will be modeled after a federal program called Disaster Unemployment Assistance, first authorized in 1974, that has extended benefits to independent contractors and others in the aftermath of things like hurricanes.

Halas said getting the benefit program up and running on such a massive scale will be extraordinarily challenging. “It’s never been applied to a recession or to the entire country,” she said.

If it follows the disaster relief program model, she said, self-employed workers and independent contractors would be eligible for half the average weekly benefit in a state, which would be $268 in Massachusetts. That would be on top of the additional $600 per week that all unemployment beneficiaries will get under the CARES Act….

“I’m hoping after the crisis is over this creates a lot of impetus for change,” said Halas, the unemployment attorney…. Read more in Commonwealth Magazine.