Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system could take three weeks to install


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — It could take three weeks to set up a system for some people to claim unemployment, according to Arkansas’ Secretary of Commerce.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is a federal element intended to help independent contractors, self-employed workers, freelancers and people employed in the gig economy. Sec. of Commerce Mike Preston said a system to handle Arkansas’ claims will take about three weeks to build.

“What it’s gonna do is require us to build an entire new system to be able to handle and process these types of claims,” Preston said, adding that other states are dealing with the same problem due to the circumstance’s unprecedented reality.

Anna Huynh is a self-employed business owner who operates Dancenhance, an entertainment company in Fayetteville. Dancenhance gets its work from weddings, proms, graduation parties and city festivals, and they also work with Razorback Athletics for their Fan Days and Walmart for its shareholders’ meeting.

Right now, the company’s dealing with cancellations and a lack of business.

“I have been in operation here in Northwest Arkansas for 20 years,” Huynh said. “This is actually our anniversary year.”

What promised to be a rewarding 2020 is turning into a gig economy nightmare.

“Things that we normally do like weekly face painting and balloon animals at local restaurants, of course we don’t get to see those people,” Huynh said.

Huynh employs a handful of gig workers, while she’s the only full-time employee of the company. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak’s impact on business, she had to let them go.

“We get paid when we work, and when we don’t work, that’s devastating,” Huynh said.

Contract deposits for 2020 are keeping bills paid and food on the table, Huynh said, but the PUA program will be big for putting business on the right track when the pandemic comes to an end. It could take more than a year to resume consistent profitability.

“It’s going to take a little extra financial help for us to make it through, because a lot of people aren’t prepared for this and can’t make it through,” Huynh said.

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