BOSTON — Hundreds of thousands of self-employed people who've lost work amid the COVID-19 outbreak filed requests last week for new federally backed unemployment benefits.

The state began accepting applications April 20 pandemic unemployment assistance intended to help those who aren't eligible for traditional benefits.

As of lasat Wednesday, there were about 200,000 requests for the new benefits, according to data released Thursday by the state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

Self-employed people who are typically ineligible for unemployment benefits include hair stylists, food service workers and others employed as independent contractors.

The CARES Act — a $2 trillion relief package signed by President Donald Trump last month — provides benefits for self-employed and contract workers for up to 39 weeks. It also extends payments for those who’ve exhausted regular state unemployment benefits by another 13 weeks.

To be eligible for the new benefits, individuals must provide "self-certification" that they are available to work and prevented from doing so because of the outbreak, including their own illness or that of a family member. People working remotely or getting paid sick leave won't qualify.

Additionally, payments to the self-employed can't exceed the state's maximum benefit for regular unemployment, which is $823 per week.

If approved, they could also get an extra $600 a week under the federal government’s new program, which is covering the added unemployment payments for up to four months.

Another 80,345 Massachusetts workers filed new claims for regular unemployment benefits in week that ended April 18, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

More than 652,000 workers in the state have joined the unemployment ranks in the past month as the COVID-19 virus outbreak has shut down wide swaths of the economy.

Nationally, more than 26 million workers have filed for new unemployment claims since late-March, according to the Labor Department.

The Baker administration has eased unemployment requirements to make it easier to file and enlisted hundreds of state employees working remotely to process new claims.

But the nonpartisan Tax Foundation reports the state only has about a few weeks of unemployment benefits funding available before they run out. Experts say the state will be forced to borrow from the federal government to replenish the fund to keep benefits flowing.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at


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