When Colin Thomas logs into Florida’s unemployment system, CONNECT, he sees his usual weekly claims: $125 from the state and another $300 in federal pandemic aid.
Recently, he also started seeing a reference to a new type of claim called Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation, or MEUC, which would provide an additional $100 per week for people who could document a combination of earned wages and gig or self-employed income. That describes Thomas, 40, who until the pandemic worked in customer care for auto dealerships and ran a consulting business on the side.
But two months after Florida opted into a federal mixed-earner benefits program — and days before this week’s original expiration date — Thomas still can’t get at it. The state has yet say how and when people can apply.
“Too little, too late doesn’t do any type of justice to what is happening,” said Thomas, who’s living out of a hotel in Pensacola. “It’ll be nice to get this check, and I’ll do important things with it, but it was supposed to be a weekly supplement. And it never was that.”
Part of a $900 billion relief package passed in late December, Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation was designed to aid the slice of the labor force that fell between wage workers and gig workers who earned at least $5,000 in the previous year. (If you have both W-2 and 1099 tax forms, that’s a good starting point to determine if you qualify.)
In 2014, about 6.1 percent of the workforce, or 8.8 million people, reported a mix of wages and self-employment income, according to a 2017 U.S. Department of the Treasury tax study. The government has not projected how many people might qualify for the new mixed-earner benefits.
But first, states actually have to roll them out. And Florida has not.
Right after the December package passed, the Department of Economic Opportunity announced the state was opting into the mixed-earner program. Two weeks later, a department spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times the state was “working diligently” to get it done.
A March 1 report filed with the Florida Senate’s Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response indicated mixed-earner benefits would “launch in early March.” On March 6, Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, tweeted that she’d heard the benefits would begin “this weekend.” This week, a Department of Economic Opportunity spokesman said the state was hoping to roll it out “as quickly as possible,” with updates promised “soon.”
The delay is likely due to technical issues with CONNECT, said Miami community activist Vanessa Brito, who’s focused on economic and unemployment issues during the pandemic. Even if the state already has people’s W-2 and 1099 forms, determining who counts as a mixed earner is another matter.
“CONNECT isn’t equipped to handle any of that,” Brito said. “I think what’s going to happen is that they’re going to offer MEUC and explain to people how you would qualify, and put it up for everybody to apply. If you qualify, you get it; if you don’t, you don’t. Which, honestly, would be the easiest way. Having to narrow down the population and hope that you get it right with CONNECT will never work.”
The government offered states $150,000 grants to help overcome technical barriers associated with implementing Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation. Florida did request and receive one, according to a Department of Economic Opportunity spokesman.
“Every state has a different way that they handle this money and their unemployment systems, and some have just been able to do it faster,” said Sarah Al Howes, a Queens, N.Y. attorney who co-founded the advocacy site MixedEarners.org. “It seems easy enough to us: Create a little flag in someone’s account if they meet this qualification, and then they have a channel of money that comes to them. I can’t speak to how difficult that is, but apparently, it’s very difficult.”
In the states that have already launched mixed-earner benefits, payments have rolled out retroactively. At this point, that represents a lump back payment of at least $1,000. That figure will only grow, as a new $1.9 trillion relief package set to be signed by President Joe Biden extends mixed-earner benefits from this week’s original deadline into September.
Brito said she’s heard Florida’s mixed-earner benefits might finally roll out this weekend. But based on the delays thus far, she wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t.
“I tell people, don’t count on anything until you see it on your screen and in your bank account,” she said.