comscore Kokua Line: Mixed-wage gig workers fall into unemployment misery gap | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Mixed-wage gig workers fall into unemployment misery gap

Question: How do gig workers who have mixed W-2 and self-employment receive the $300 boost? My husband is a professional musician. Most of his weekly gigs have been at hotels and restaurants. We have lived financially without any government help like SNAP, HUD, etc. all our lives. We are now over 65. We could really use the $300 a week to pay for rent, food, utilities, car insurance, medicine, etc. Last year, one of his hotel jobs decided to change his status to an employee. He worked there and was sent a W-2 for $3,400 in wages. Fast forward to the pandemic, lockdown, businesses close, no work, no help for months. Finally, UI says he qualifies for $77 per week, which works OK with the extra $600. We tighten our belt. The $600 expires. Now we are unable to qualify for the $300 a week from FEMA. I know we are not the only ones facing this crisis. As a self-­employed musician, he has paid the (general excise) tax on his gig earnings and tips for years. He is a mixed-wages gig worker. Surely the other part of his self-employment is of some value. We have years of tax records, showing we paid. We have no restaurants open that can afford to hire musicians at this time. They are just trying to survive themselves, without that expense. We are all hanging on with our fingernails. Where do we go to find the help needed to help us survive?

Answer: Your family’s predicament is sadly common in Hawaii, with so many mixed-wage workers connected to the stagnant tourism industry. Your husband earned too much from an employer to qualify for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, but too little to qualify for at least $100 a week in state Unemployment Insurance, which in Hawaii can run as low as $5 a week.

PUA, which pays at least $263 a week to people who are totally out of work, is meant for the self-­employed. However, people who earned most of their income through self-­employment can be denied PUA because of W-2 earnings as low as $130 last year. Like your husband, they are stuck with a much smaller UI benefit.

Families managed to cope when Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation was flowing because the $600 weekly “plus up” was paid to individuals receiving any amount of unemployment compensation; it expired more than six weeks ago.

Lost Wages Assistance, paid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is different. Only people with an unemployment weekly benefit of at least $100 will receive the $300 weekly LWA. There’s no way around this at the moment.

Families like yours need action on multiple fronts, said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, based in Washington, D.C. Your query described distinct problems, with distinct solutions, she said:

>> Mixed-wage workers: Relief here must come from Congress and the White House, by compromising on a new stimulus package that closes the funding gap for mixed-wage workers, she said. If a compromise package emerges, Evermore was confident this element would be addressed. However, she said, there’s no guarantee that any compromise will emerge. Contact your U.S. congressional delegation and the White House to urge a deal.

>> Revive the “plus-up”: LWA is no substitute for FPUC, and not only because it leaves out the lowest­-paid claimants, she said. LWA is an administrative nightmare for the states and relies on disaster-relief funds that will run out quickly, she said; it would be better to revive the FPUC, even at less than $600 a week. Contact your congressional delegation and the White House to urge action.

>> Sub-$100 LWA exclusion: Evermore said states can use state funds to retroactively raise everyone on unemployment to at least $100 a week as of Aug. 1, making all eligible for LWA (the $300). However, Hawaii and most other states have not done so. Hawaii is borrowing money from the federal government to pay UI as it is. Money the Legislature approved to boost unemployment benefits and which Gov. David Ige vetoed would not have accomplished this goal because it was federal funding.

Locally, and right away, we encourage you and others in the same boat to seek help with rent, mortgage payments, utilities, grocery bills and other expenses. Call the Aloha United Way at 211 or go to auw.org and click on “COVID-19 Assistance Programs” to see some of what’s available, including a new statewide rent relief program, hihousinghelp.com.

Many readers describe direct household funding through enhanced unemployment benefits as the most efficient, but with the state and counties pouring money into programs that require a “middle man,” it’s important to apply for all relief for which you are eligible.


Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email kokualine@staradvertiser.com.


Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature
Comments (0)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Scroll Up