This post was first published on March 11, 2020, and last updated March 31, 2020. It will continue to be updated as new information becomes available.
With cities across the country shutting down to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every industry is feeling the pinch.
Government relief programs for freelancers
As policies are changing daily, your best bet to stay up to date on relief efforts in your area is to follow the local news (and call your representatives to demand they include freelancers in their work!). Here's an incomplete list of the changes that have been made so far:
Unemployment insurance available: The federal stimulus bill passed on March 27 includes, for the first time, a provision that independent workers qualify for unemployment insurance, including an additional $600/week provided by the federal government. For a full breakdown of the bill, read our article here.
Tax filing deferred: The new federal deadline for tax filing and the first quarterly payment of the year is now July 15. State tax deadlines are up to their discretion, so make sure to double-check before you assume you're off the hook on April 15.
Health insurance updates: In a number of states, including New York and California, the enrollment period has been reopened so you can buy health insurance on the marketplace for a limited time. In addition, many insurers (including EmblemHealth and Oscar, our partners in NY) are covering the costs of COVID-19 screening and tests, so if you're feeling sick, you won't pay out of pocket to get tested.
Evictions halted: Falling behind on rent or mortgage payments shouldn't be another source of worry right now. Many cities have suspended all eviction proceedings, and the federal government has instructed HUD to do the same. If you live in a HUD property or have a mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Authority, you're safe from eviction and foreclosure right now.
Paid sick leave passed: Among the emergency measures signed into law so far is an act that extends paid sick leave and paid family leave to small business owners and freelancers, which can be claimed as a credit on your taxes. Get the details here.
Aid programs available: If you experience a loss of income, the federally funded LIHEAP program can help with your utility bills. And be sure to check out this crowdfunded list of resources for freelance artists, including emergency grants, job postings, and more.
In New York City, if your work schedule has been reduced and you are unable to pay your rent, you can apply for a Cash Assistance special grant to get benefits for emergencies. Apply online here.
And be sure to check out these crowdsourced resource guides for lots more info on grants, free workshops, and mutual aid programs:
Here are two actions you can take to help support your fellow freelancers now:
1. Call your city and state representatives to demand they include freelancers in all relief programs. Freelancers Union is pushing to ensure that any financial safety nets that are implemented in this moment of economic crisis include freelancers. Our plan comprises the following:
- Establish a temporary emergency measure to provide zero-interest loans to small businesses, including freelancers.
- Institute tax breaks and deferments of tax payments for self-employed individuals.
2. Take our survey. We’re collecting information on how the coronavirus has impacted freelancers. Please take two minutes to fill out our survey about how you're being affected by the pandemic! Your responses will help guide our advocacy and relief work.
Stock up. In addition to must-haves like breakfast cereal and wine, think about the things you need to get your work done. Shipping supplies? Printer paper? Whatever it is, try to have at least a two-week supply on hand.
Stay home. Social distancing is the best way to contain the spread of the virus, and many cities are implementing policies that ban public gatherings, close restaurants, bars, and event spaces, and even require all nonessential activity be ceased. If you absolutely need to leave the house, stay 6 feet away from others, wash your hands thoroughly, and don't touch your face.
Upgrade your space. Have you been considering boosting your internet service? Getting a bigger monitor for your desk? If your budget can handle it, now's a good time to make your home office more comfortable. You'll be spending a lot more time here for the foreseeable future.
Keep learning. If your business is impacted, use the downtime to take on a big project you haven't been able to find the time for—whether that's mastering SEO or learning to knit. It doesn't have to be professionally productive (though we always respect the hustle!), as long as it's satisfying to you and keeps your brain engaged. And who knows? You might find a whole new revenue stream while you're at it!
Be kind to yourself. For many freelancers, working from home is business as usual. But if you're used to coworking or working from an office, the shift can feel isolating. Check out our tips for making the most of this time, and don't beat yourself up if you're not as productive as usual for a while.
Get creative. There's no telling at this point how long this outbreak will last, so if you've got appointments or events on your calendar for the next few months, now's the time to figure out how to make them happen virtually. Fitness instructor? Offer one-on-one FaceTime training sessions. Business consultant? Turn your workshops into Zoom meetings.