Warner urges feds to issue guidance on benefits for gig workers
A week after Congress responded to the coronavirus pandemic with a $2.2 trillion package designed to provide economic relief to workers and businesses that for the first time provided unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed, states are struggling to implement its provisions and swiftly provide financial aid to Americans who are part of the “gig economy.”
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a longtime national leader on labor issues affecting contractors and the contingent workforce, today called on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to issue better guidance to states allowing them to quickly implement the provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allowing these workers to access unemployment benefits in the midst of a growing economic emergency. Though DOL issued initial guidance on the CARES Act to states late yesterday, it failed to address several key issues, leaving many states flailing in their efforts to quickly make the new unemployment benefits accessible to Americans who need it, and ensuring that it may be weeks before some workers can access the financial relief as Congress intended.
“The CARES Act directs states to stand up a new program, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program, to disburse benefits to workers who would normally not be eligible for unemployment assistance, such as gig workers or freelancers. Unfortunately, we are already hearing reports from unemployment officials from around the country that it will likely take weeks to stand up a new program and disburse benefits to these newly eligible workers,” Sen. Warner wrote in a letter to Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. “In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, with unemployment claims overwhelming state systems, there is no time to waste. While I appreciate the initial round of guidance that was released yesterday, the Department of Labor should have already issued more comprehensive guidance to states this week.”
In order to enable the rapid implementation of the CARES Act, Sen. Warner urged DOL to issue guidance on several problems that were missing from its release yesterday. Sen. Warner called on DOL to: streamline the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance process by removing burdensome regulatory barriers limiting worker participation; require states to accept electronic documentation and allow them flexibility to make determinations on eligibility for the program on a case-by-case basis; take the lead on contracting innovative technologies to implement the program and avoid all 50 states having to each “reinvent the wheel”; and increase flexibility for states to calculate and disburse weekly benefits.
In early March, Sen. Warner successfully called on leading gig worker platform companies to commit that independent contractors who deliver their services will not be penalized for following recommended health procedures to protect the public from further spread of the coronavirus. For years, Sen. Warner has championed legislation to establish portable benefits systems that would allow gig workers, independent contractors, and the self-employed to access benefits and protections that are commonly provided to full-time employees, such as paid leave, workers’ compensation, skills training, unemployment insurance, tax withholding and tax-advantaged retirement savings.
Following the March 18 passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Sen. Warner also led several of his colleagues in urging state governors and workforce administrators to implement its provisions easing restrictions on emergency unemployment benefits as swiftly as possible.