[By Julie Bort]
The email Business Insider received from an Uber driver was heartbreaking. St. Patrick’s day was normally a hugely busy day for her. But this year, with the bars in her state shuttered, events banned, and a quiet airport, no one was out.
“I sat for nine hours at the airport and only managed three passengers,” she told Business Insider. “I am quite distressed about how I will pay my basic bills including car payment, car insurance, as my entire livelihood relies upon my having a vehicle.”
She wasn’t sick or in quarantine, so she didn’t qualify for the company’s sick-pay policy. She was technically classified as a contractor, so she didn’t qualify for her state’s unemployment benefits, either.
But now there’s hope for her and the thousands of other US ride-hailing drivers, gig-economy workers, and freelancers who have seen their livelihoods crumble during the coronavirus pandemic.
A provision in the Senate’s coronavirus stimulus bill, under a section called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, makes contractors, freelancers, and other self-employed workers finally eligible for unemployment insurance.
It isn’t wholly clear yet how much money a week gig workers would qualify for, but the bill, which passed the Senate late Wednesday, says the amount should be equivalent to what they would have gotten from their state unemployment programs if they were a full-time employee who qualified for regular unemployment insurance.
Federal law says unemployment payments should be the same weekly pay as they would earn from their employer, capped by a maximum amount set by the state. The max amount varies by state. For instance, Florida’s maximum is $275 a week; California’s is $450 a week.
But the coronavirus stimulus bill also provides for four months of additional unemployment insurance, up to an additional $600 a week, for everyone who qualifies for unemployment, including gig workers.
The extended unemployment benefits in this bill attempt to protect workers “whether they work for small, medium or large businesses, along with the self-employed and workers in the gig economy,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in a press release.
The bill must now pass in the House of Representative before it reaches President Donald Trump’s desk to become law.