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Getting state, federal benefits has been frustrating for some. Here’s one man’s story
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Steve Collins is a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese medicine at the Spa on Green Street. As an independent contractor, Collins has found himself on the outside of economic stimulus money. Photo Courtesy Steve Collins

As an “independent contractor,” Gainesville acupuncturist Steve Collins has found himself on the outside of economic stimulus money — at least, so far.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a new program funded by federal economic stimulus money, is intended to provide state unemployment benefits to workers who don’t typically receive them, including self-employed and gig workers and independent contractors.

The first step for these workers is to file a regular state unemployment claim application, which asks about employment history and wages for the last 18 months, the Georgia Department of Labor says on its website.

The labor department then works with the Georgia Department of Revenue to verify wages.

“Like so many programs recently, access to this one is somewhat confusing,” Collins said. “Apparently, since I applied for Georgia unemployment, I don't have to reapply for this. But even that point is confusing. I believe that I'm supposed to wait for Georgia to contact me and further determine my need. Why they need to further determine my need, I do not know.”

Collins and others may hear soon from the labor department, which is creating the program “from scratch,” state officials have said.

Beginning Wednesday, April 22, emails should go out to applicants potentially eligible for help under the assistance program, according to the labor department.

Workers who have already filed a claim “and determined not eligible for state unemployment benefits and … potentially eligible to receive benefits under this program do not have to refile a regular state claim,” the department said.

“Once development of the new federal (assistance) program is completed, these individuals will be identified and will receive notification by email with a link to the application or mail containing information regarding the PUA application process.”

Collins also is waiting for $1,200 stimulus money being given to qualified individual taxpayers.

But he has run into the same problems as many Americans when trying to track their status or enter bank account information on the IRS’ online tool, Get My Payment, including being told “Payment status not available.”

When paying his 2018 taxes, he sent the IRS a paper check, so he’s concerned the agency will respond by sending him a check in the mail rather than through direct deposit.

Reports suggest that checks will be mailed in waves throughout the summer, so it may be months before Collins sees that money.

“These funds should be easily and quickly dispersed, but for whatever reasons the machinations of bureaucracy are confounding the process,” he said. “In the meantime, all of us depending on the money to live are suffering and looking at possible profound consequences.”

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