A range of workers previously ineligible for unemployment benefits can now seek state aid if they are unable to work because of the COVID-19 outbreak and its impacts on public life.

The Baker administration announced Monday that a site making jobless aid available to those who do not qualify for traditional or extended unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers and independent contractors, is now live.

While such workers make up a substantial segment of the workforce in Massachusetts, state labor officials were unable to offer an estimate of how many applications they expect.

“It is vital that our workforce gets the resources and help they need during this critical time,” Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta said. “I’m proud of everything our team is doing to rapidly implement new programs, and ensure that as many eligible workers as possible get some relief.”

Congress expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits under the so-called CARES Act that President Donald Trump signed on March 27. Benefits under the expanded eligibility program did not launch immediately because state officials needed time to develop a new platform to host applications.

Gov. Charlie Baker said during a Monday morning interview with Boston 25 News that “a ton of people did a ton of work to get here today so that we could make this benefit available to people.”

The program, referred to as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), is open to self-employed workers such as freelancers and independent contractors – a category into which most real estate agents fall – those seeking part-time employment, those who do not have enough work history for standard benefits, or those who have been laid off from religious institutions.

“They don’t actually contribute to the existing unemployment insurance system, so they don’t exist anywhere in our records,” Baker told Boston 25. “So we built a platform to make it possible for those folks who are the so-called gig, self-employed, contractor community to be able to apply for unemployment insurance under the CARES Act.”

Applicants must provide self-certification to show that they are prevented from working due to COVID-19 or the business shutdowns the pandemic prompted. Anyone able to work remotely or who is receiving paid leave for the duration of a customary work week will not qualify.

PUA benefits may not exceed the maximum weekly benefit rate for regular unemployment in Massachusetts, which is $823. Also, weekly benefits will be retroactive to Jan. 27, or the date when individuals became unemployed, whichever is more recent.

The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development expects to publish initial PUA application numbers when they release weekly unemployment claim figures on Thursday.

States will be reimbursed by the federal government for the costs of PUA benefits and for the additional $600 per week paid to all unemployment benefit recipients in another component of the CARES Act. Massachusetts began offering that extra funding in early April.

Both federal and state labor offices have been hit with an historic surge of unemployment claims during the coronavirus emergency. Over the past four weeks, nearly 573,000 Massachusetts residents – about 12 percent of the entire labor force – submitted new applications, while 22 million Americans did so in the same span.

The state Department of Unemployment Assistance now has about 850 workers, an increase from the 50 it had last month, handling all claims. On Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker said the department was already paying benefits to about 315,000 residents.

Jobless Benefits Now Available to Realtors, Contractors

by State House News Service time to read: 2 min