RI unemployment claims spike as independent contractors get the green light

It’s a big sigh of relief for independent contractors and gig workers in Rhode Island as the state is now allowing them to file for unemployment insurance because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This comes after it was announced Tuesday that social distancing guidelines have been extended for another month.

The online claims system for independent contractors launched at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday and by 10:00 a.m. the DLT said it had already received 2,800 claims.

Later in the day, it was reported that the department was seeing around 1,000 claims an hour, and by 5:00 p.m. Tuesday the DLT had 9.691 claims.

It is not known if all Tuesday’s claims are from independent contractors at this time.

It’s a lifesaver for people like Lon Cerel, a professional magician for more than 40 years.

Cerel made it a point to be one of the first to file his claim.

“I set my alarm for 7:30. I wanted to be one of the first ones in the system to do that,” he said. ” I was also a little bit concerned that [if] too many people applied at once it might crash the system.”

It was a concern for many but according to DLT Director Scott Jensen, aside from a couple of minor bugs that were fixed immediately, the system was able to keep up with the influx of claims because of a cloud-connected system.

“We did make preparations from a tech perspective so it wouldn’t crash,” Jensen said. “The cloud will allow infinite access to an application like this one.”

Jensen said the applications would then be transferred to the department’s server during a time with low internet traffic so the system can handle it.

With so many claims coming in on the day independent contractors and gig workers were allowed to file, it will give the state some perspective about a different side of the workforce.

“We will know much later what the contours of the independent contractor community look like in Rhode Island,” he said. “We’ll have data that we’ve never had before.”

For Cerel, he’s not sure how much he would receive under unemployment insurance, but he does know anything helps at this point.

“I have no expectations and whatever they think [the state] can afford through this emergency fund it will be something that I can use,” Cerel said.

With the new claims filed Tuesday there have been over 100,000 unemployment insurance claims in Rhode Island directly related to COVID-19.

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Regional News, Rhode Island