Unemployment Benefits for Self-Employed Artists, Gig Workers, etc.

April 22, 2020 Update

Since NASAA’s original memo to the field on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the U.S. Department of Labor has issued specific guidance for states to establish distribution systems for these funds. A few states have already begun to process benefits, more will come on line shortly.

The action items below remain the same for state arts agencies: monitor your state workforce agency closely, urge artists to gather the necessary materials in advance, and notify your constituents right away when enrollment opens.

April 3, 2020

Good afternoon to our state arts agency colleagues:

I hope this message finds you well and safely nestled into whatever physical or virtual work space you are currently occupying!

I’m writing today with some updates on the unemployment provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act recently enacted by Congress. NASAA has received many questions about this policy, and I know you have, as well.

To recap, section 2012 of the act creates a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. It provides up to 39 weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals who are self-employed, part-time workers, independent contractors and workers otherwise ineligible for state unemployment benefits. This could be a substantial boon for artists and creative entrepreneurs in all 56 states and jurisdictions.

PUA benefits will be provided through state workforce and unemployment agencies. However, because this is a new program, states cannot start to disburse funds until they have received federal implementation guidance and have put the necessary state level systems and personnel in place. For this reason, everyone has been eagerly awaiting more U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) guidance.

I’m pleased to report that process is now under way: last night USDOL issued its first advisory to state workforce agencies addressing PUA. This is a preliminary advisory and does not mean that benefits are available yet! But it does signal that things are starting to move. In the meantime, there are some practical action steps you and your constituents can be taking to get ready:

  • State arts agencies should monitor your state workforce agency’s progress on implementing PUA and familiarize yourself with the requirements once they are published. Procedures will vary across jurisdictions. A few state workforce agencies are encouraging prospective PUA applicants to establish accounts in advance, but most are asking PUA applicants to wait. As systems go online in the weeks ahead, it will be helpful for state arts agencies to know your own state’s approach so that you can direct artists to relevant checklists, FAQs, etc.
  • Artists planning to seek PUA should begin assembling documentation. Again here, more USDOL guidance is pending and specific requirements may vary from state to state. But industry experts are recommending that prospective applicants begin compiling a recent work history, earnings records and documentation of separation or COVID-19 related disruptions. In most states, a social security number, physical address, e-mail address and banking information also are baseline requirements.

This is uncharted territory for everyone, so we’re all learning as we go! Please keep NASAA apprised of your experiences with PUA and other forms of artist assistance and let us know how we can help.

Thanks again for all you are doing to support the arts and sustain the creative economy. NASAA appreciates your leadership and hard work!

All best,



Kelly J. Barsdate
Chief Program and Planning Officer