You Asked About Unemployment Insurance, COVID-19 Testing. We’ve Got Answers.

Apr 8, 2020

Indiana Public Broadcasting’s digital producer Lauren Chapman and workforce reporter Justin Hicks joined Side Effects Public Media’s Brittani Howell to answer some of the questions we’ve received about the novel coronavirus and employment. 

To join the Indiana 2020 Two-Way and ask your questions, text “elections” to 73224. To join the Midwest Checkup, text “health” to 73224. 

Why aren’t you reporting on recovery rates? Why is the data only at the county level, instead of for specific cities and towns? Can we get more information about where COVID-19 cases are developing?

The data provided to us by the state of Indiana is only for the county level. Chapman says there are a few reasons for that in federal privacy laws.

Deeper dives into gender, age or racial breakdown rely on the state providing it. After this interview, the state began including data on COVID-19 cases and deaths based on age and gender. The state health commissioner said data on race would be released later this week.

However, the state has not released data on COVID-19 recoveries.

“As a data wonk myself, I would love to have those kinds of numbers,” Chapman says. “Because when you look at the number of people who are confirmed COVID-19 in the state, it looks really scary, right? … I would love to have that data myself.” 

Do we really know how many people in Indiana have or have had COVID-19?

No. Indiana is still doing targeted testing, to reserve the limited number of tests the state has for health professionals, higher risk groups, and front-line essential employees. 

“Where we’re at now, we’re only sampling a very, very small portion of people to even have those confirmed cases,” Chapman says. 

The governor and state health commissioner floated the number of more than 60,000 Hoosiers having already been infected with COVID-19. Where did that number come from?

That goes back to a previous story from Indiana Public Broadcasting’s statehouse reporter Brandon Smith. On March 13, State Health Commissioner Kris Box and Gov. Eric Holcomb spoke with reporters to talk about how far spread the virus was in the state, one week after the first case was reported. 

In that discussion, they both floated the same figure that Ohio health officials used when estimating community spread with mild symptoms: 1 percent of the state’s total population. In Ohio, that’s more than 100,000. In Indiana that’s more than 65,000. 

How much of a delay is there in reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths? What about a delay in testing results? Why does it exist?

After the video was published, Commissioner Box tackled that question a bit more head-on. She said there is a delay between reporting that a test was conducted and reporting a positive result from that test. The Indiana State Department of Health also updated the data it sends out each day to include when deaths actually occurred compared to when it was reported to the state. 

Chapman says ISDH is reliant on individual county health departments to report those cases and deaths to the state. 

“So, you have a governor in Eric Holcomb who issued the “Stay-At-Home” order a couple of days after our neighboring state. But even then, that trickle-down continues for individual county governments as well,” Chapman says. “So, Indiana as a whole almost can’t be thought of as an individual entity, but instead has to be thought of as 92 separate counties that are in charge of making all of this happen at once.” 

What’s happened so far with Indiana’s unemployment and unemployment insurance program?

Indiana has a labor force of nearly 3.4 million people. For the last week of March, more than 120,000 Hoosiers filed for unemployment.

READ MORE: Could Indiana's Unemployment Benefits System Have Been Better Prepared For COVID-19?

The last time Indiana saw numbers anything like that was during the 2008 recession. 

“It’s a self-imposed recession,” Hicks says. “And we’ve never seen anything like it before in the history of this country.” 

How do the Families First Act and CARES Act affect Indiana’s unemployment insurance benefits?

The Families First Act means employers of workers who either get sick from COVID-19, are told to stay home, or have to take care of loved ones are required to provide paid sick leave.

The CARES Act – which also includes direct stimulus payments to households – also extends unemployment benefits to self-employed Americans. But the state still has to build that capability into its online portal.

I am self-employed and out of work due to COVID-19 pandemic. I am trying to file for unemployment but the application asks for an employer and since I am self employed it stops me right there. What do I do now?

There is no official answer to that question. 

“Right now, self-employed people, independent contractors, gig workers, that whole deal – they’re kind of a square peg, and the unemployment insurance program is a round hole,” Hicks says. 

READ MORE: Can I Go For A Walk? Here's What The Expanded 'Stay-At-Home' Order Really Does

LEE MAS: ¿Puedo Salir A Caminar? Esto Es Lo Que Significa Una Orden De Permanecer En Casa

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development received guidance from the federal government on April 5. Commissioner Fred Payne says staff are working to implement the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program as soon as possible, but he still has no definite timeline. The changes will make self-employed workers, independent contractors and gig workers able to access unemployment benefits – something he says the state’s program wasn’t built to do. 

Hicks says the core of the problem is how the state proves income for self-employed Hoosiers. One way would be 1099 tax filings. 

“Really, the best answer right now is to wait,” Hicks says. “They’re figuring this out. Give them a week or two.” 

Hicks says if you cannot wait, if you need immediate assistance, another option is small business loans from the federal government called COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. A portion of self-employed or independent contractors may qualify for that.

If a self-employed person has been denied unemployment benefits now, do they need to appeal? Or should they wait for Workforce Development to contact them. If so, how long should they wait?

Hicks says, from his understanding, if you’ve applied and been denied, you will not be penalized. It also does not mean you’ll be denied by the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program from the federal government. 

But should you appeal? Hicks says he’s heard different answers. The appeals process is a full legal process, which allows you to provide more documentation and appear before a judge to make your case.

“I’m leaning towards you should probably not appeal, and in fact, being denied through the program may end up working in your favor when it comes to applying for the federal program,” Hicks says. “That was actually one of the prerequisites – you had to be denied by the state program to then be accepted by the federal program.” 

Hicks says to keep the denial paperwork and see what shakes out in the next week or two. 

What if I work multiple jobs and have been laid off or furloughed from one? Can I apply for unemployment benefits?

Yes. You can apply for unemployment benefits. Hicks says the lost revenue doesn’t necessarily require you to lose a job – if your hours have been cut, you can apply for financial assistance to mitigate that loss. 

What are essential businesses? And what is the governor referring to when he talks about essential businesses?

To define “essential” businesses in the state of Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb has pointed back to guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland security. 

Chapman says there are a few obvious businesses to point to: health care facilities, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations – businesses that aid specifically in providing people health care necessities and food. 

But, there are ancillary groups that connect to those to keep them running – like manufacturers, food production and warehouses.

“Everything that gets your bag of bread [to] the Kroger down the street from the point that it is wheat on a farm – that entire supply chain is considered essential,” Chapman says. “Including, for example, manufacturing parts for trucks, replacing tires on trucks and gas stations all along the way.” 

All that being said, Hicks says if you have concerns about whether the business you work for is actually essential, the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) has an online form specifically for COVID-19 concerns.

If you own a business and want to confirm that you’re essential, the governor’s office says you call 877-820-0890 or email at covidresponse@iedc.in.gov for additional guidance. 

What are the consequences if a complaint is filed?

Holcomb extended and expanded his “Stay-At-Home” order Monday to include specific consequences for non-essential businesses that are still open. 

It includes the creation of an Enforcement Response Team. Along with the Indiana State Department of Health, it will first give a verbal warning and then ISDH may issue a cease and desist letter.

If the business continues to operate, the Indiana State Department of Health can order the business to close – which will be reported to the Secretary of State and to any other relevant boards or commissions. 

Additionally, if an order to close a business is issued, a local prosecuting attorney may file charges for violating the executive order issued under Indiana’s Emergency Disaster Law. 

Indiana Public Broadcasting, Side Effects and this station will ask Americans about health issues, as part of the America Amplified: Election 2020 initiative.