MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The new federal stimulus program, if passed, will mean good news for thousands of people who do not normally qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.

“It’s insane. I never thought I’d be stuck at home, that is for sure. I want to go to work,” hairstylist Kenny McQuiston told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench.

Ever since his Fort Lauderdale barbershop shut down because of the coronavirus, McQuiston has been spending a lot of time with his cat and on the telephone.

“How worried am I? On a scale of 1 to 10, probably a 6. I stay home. I mean, what I am I going to do if I can’t pay rent?” McQuiston said.

Rob Sapienza was forced to shut down his Fort Lauderdale hair salon.

“Am I worried? Essentially, yeah, I am worried. Every day I look at the news and I am not sure what is going to happen,” Sapienza said.

Independent contractors and the self-employed like Sapienza and McQuiston do not qualify for traditional benefits. But under the new stimulus program, they would qualify for new payments.

“Anyone who filed taxes for 2018 or 2019 is going to qualify for that check,” said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

What is not clear, Mucarsel-Powell said, is how those like McQuiston would receive the new benefits.

“Those details will be hammered out in the next 24 hours. Because it could be the Department of Labor for some filings, others will be through the IRS, others through your state unemployment insurance,” she said.

Mucarsel-powell also wants to increase standard unemployment benefits that are just $275 a week.

“It’s the lowest in the country, so I am asking the governor to increase that amount in addition to the $600 that will be added to that benefit every week,” she said. “We are also increasing the length of payment from 26 weeks to 39 weeks, so it will continue for 4 months.”

The extra benefits cannot come soon enough.

“I am happy the government is stepping up to take care of us, but I will believe it when I see it,” Sapienza said. “No one knows how long this is going to take. Luckily, I have some money in the bank that will hold me off for a few months. But that’s not everybody. I also work for myself and when I done with the money there is nothing else coming in.”

Mucarsel-Powell told D’Oench she will vote Friday morning for the federal stimulus program, and will continue to fight for stronger unemployment benefits.

Her office has been inundated by thousands of calls about this issue.

More than 74,000 people filed for unemployment benefits last week in Florida.

Peter D'Oench

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