DC Says Unemployment Help, Small Business Relief Are on Way

About 1 in 13 D.C. residents has applied for unemployment since mid-March

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D.C. workers and employers continue to struggle with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser used her daily briefing to provide information on what help is available. 

The mayor encouraged local business owners to apply for local grants and federal loans. More than 7,000 businesses have applied for grants from D.C. An additional $1.5 million was announced for businesses in Ward 7 and Ward 8. 

“I would continue to urge businesses to find out what they can and apply for those resources,” Bowser said. 

Like thousands of others across the District, the owners of Brothers Sew & Vac in Northwest D.C. are looking to the government for help. Jay Morris and his family have run the sewing machine repair shop on Connecticut Avenue since 1977. They already closed their three stores in the suburbs. 

“We’re hoping for the bailout. We’re holding on to our employees,” Morris said. 

As for unemployment benefits, the D.C. Department of Employment Services is slowed down by the sheer volume of applications they have received since mid-March. 

More than 53,000 D.C. residents filed unemployment claims between March 13 and April 6. That’s nearly double the roughly 27,000 people who filed initial claims in all of 2019, and represents about 1 in 13 residents of the city.  

About a third of applicants have received checks, and $6.7 million has been paid. Most applicants are still waiting. 

Unique Morris-Hughes, director of the unemployment office, asked applicants to be patient. 

“We’re working expeditiously to make sure all claims are processed and everyone’s concerns are addressed. We know the process can be frustrating and exhausting. However, we appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through this unprecedented time,” she said.

If you receive food stamps, you may get an automatic increase. If you were set to re-certify, that will happen automatically. 

If you’re self-employed and get a 1099 form, you will be able to apply for benefits in a few weeks, officials said. If you’ve already applied and were denied, you’ll have to reapply.

Gig workers such as ride-hailing service drivers and musicians will likely have to talk with an employment specialist by phone. The call center is getting 10,000 calls per day, so you should expect to be on hold for hours, unfortunately. 

At Brothers Sew & Vac, Morris plans to stay open a few more days, continue to pay his employees and trust the government to help. 

“It sounds very encouraging,” he said. 

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