BOSTON (CBS) — On Monday, a new group of Massachusetts workers became able to file for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act – and they’re doing so in droves. Gov. Charlie Baker said on Friday that tens of thousands of self-employed workers, consultants who receive 1099 forms and “gig economy” workers have applied for benefits.

“This was a very big deal to set up, but it was a really important element in our program across the country, and here in Massachusetts to support these people,” Baker said. “So far this system has processed well over 100,000 claims for this particular group of individuals, which is a big number.”

That group typically is not part of the unemployment system, but the federal CARES Act allowed them to receive state benefits plus $600 per week for up to 39 weeks. Baker said Massachusetts was one of the first states in the country to successfully set up a separate program to enroll them and evaluate their eligibility.

Even before the new system was set up, Massachusetts has seen 650,000 unemployment claims filed since March 15.

“We’re currently paying approximately 400,000 people, and obviously we’re working through the rest of the group; that’s currently in process,” Baker said. “That 400,000 people is a really big number – four times the number of people who were collecting unemployment benefits in the month of February.”

Still, many people in Massachusetts are saying they’re having difficulty filing for unemployment. The state has added hundreds of workers to its call center to support the crush of new claimants.

“We went into this knowing that we were going to have to dramatically expand our ability to support people who were going to be filing, because we would never have seen numbers like this, ever,” Baker said. “And that’s why our call center has 20 times as many people in it today as it did four weeks ago.”


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