Self-employed people out of work seek assistance during pandemic

MENASHA, Wi. (WBAY) - Hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin have applied for unemployment so far during the pandemic according to Fox Valley's Workforce Development board. With so many people wanting to file for unemployment, call lines have been tied up and many have become frustrated.

People who were self-employed but can no longer work, such as hair dressers and tattoo artists to name a couple, are now unsure how to move forward.

"I can't figure it out. I've spent days trying to figure it out,” said Kristina Toppins. It's not easy and it shouldn’t be like that."

Toppins is at her wits’ end, trying to find out whether or not she can qualify for unemployment assistance, now that she can no longer work as a hair dresser at Studio R in Menasha.

"You can't get a hold of anybody,” said Toppins.

Toppins isn't the only one who has spent days calling a variety of unemployment insurance lines with no answer. Dozens upon dozens of comments on Wisconsin's Workforce Development Facebook page tell the same story, but in Toppins's case she was self-employed.

"It just stinks, we can't get answers, we can't get any relief of how to do this easily,” said Toppins. “Just like everybody else I guess we're just trying to contact people and make it happen. But it just sucks when you're self-employed because you don't you don't get any benefits of a company, giving you any money or anything.”

As of right now, no change has been made at a state-level to allow for self-employed people to access unemployment insurance. But Fox Valley Workforce Development Board CEO Anthony Snyder says they should still apply anyways.

"Let UI tell you if you're qualified or not,” said Snyder. “Don't be thinking to yourself may or may not be qualified, because the stimulus money, as I understand that may be coming our way very shortly, I don't know yet how that's going to connect to the UI system."

Snyder added that many essential businesses are now looking for temporary workers.

"It's a really interesting time to be searching for a job, but my sense is that if you can find an employer and connect with them, they would love to have you come aboard pretty quickly,” said Snyder.

But to Toppins the idea of working at an essential place like a grocery store where she could be exposed to a number of people during a health pandemic is a scary thought.

"That's very scary because the whole point is not to be interactive with people,” said Toppins. “So it's kind of a double edged sword with that. It's not that I don't want to work, but I don't know where I want to work."
Snyder says they’re doing everything they can to help people.

"It's going to be a little challenging right now because our systems are really set up for face-to-face contact and when you're supposed to be social distancing each other, this is a little tricky for us,” said Snyder.
"There is a number to call for assistance, however it’s a little overwhelmed right now. My advice to everyone is just read the instructions, gather up the materials you need in advance, and just be patient."

But Toppins hopes lawmakers will step up and help people like her, who have no assistance to fall back on.

“That they help the people that are self-employed, and they look at hairstylists, and look at people that own tanning salons, they look at tattoo artists, they look at the small people that maybe they don't think makes a huge difference in the world - but this is how we survive,” said Toppins. “This is our bread and butter. Without our clients, without the loyalty that we have from our clients, we don't make money.”

If anyone would like to file for unemployment, they can visit the DWD website: CLICK HERE

People without access to a computer can call 414-435-7069 or toll free at 844-910-3661 Monday through Friday from 7:35 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Anyone interested in searching for work in the Fox Valley area, the Menasha Job Center has a listing of temporary positions on its Facbook page CLICK HERE, or people can call 920-997-3272.