State begins processing unemployment claims for people who don't usually qualify for unemployment benefits.

COURTESY PHOTO: KATE DAVIDSON/OPB - Uber and Lyft driver Duane Hanson in Portland, early in the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. He got sick shortly after and applied for unemployment benefits on March 27.In early March, Uber and Lyft driver Duane Hanson was feeling tense about driving to the airport. It was a few days after Oregon announced its first coronavirus case and he had picked up a passenger who rattled him.

"First thing out of his mouth was this huge sneeze. I was like, 'Oh got a touch of the corona?'" Hanson chuckled ruefully. "He was very upset by that. But I'm married with children. I want everybody to be safe in my little world."

Hanson told that story on a Friday afternoon. By Sunday morning he was sick. Aches and pains, labored breathing, a nonstop headache and fatigue — symptoms, he said later, it took six weeks to kick.

"Some days you'd really feel like you were gonna beat this thing and then the next day it would just wallop you again," he said by phone.

On March 27, Hanson did something that increased his frustration. He applied for unemployment insurance benefits.

"Unfortunately, like everybody else, I haven't seen a dime," he said.

Hanson likely applied too early and he's not alone.

March 27 was the day President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act, a more than $2 trillion economic relief package. It extended unemployment benefits to a group of workers who aren't typically eligible for them — the self-employed, gig and contract workers.

States rushed to create new systems to process the novel claims. Oregon rolled out its Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or PUA, on April 28, roughly in the middle of the pack.

This OPB story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.


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