Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is urging the Department of Labor to issue guidance for states scrambling to give gig and self-employed workers access to unemployment benefits.
“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,” Warner wrote to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia in a letter Friday.
“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. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, with unemployment claims overwhelming state systems, there is no time to waste.”
The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Trump last week gives those workers access to unemployment benefits. But states have struggled to make those benefits available quickly, given a historic surge in workers seeking unemployment benefits as the coronavirus pandemic batters the economy.
The Department of Labor issued initial guidance on the CARES Act late Thursday, but Warner said it must streamline the PUA program, require states to allow applicants to submit electronic documents and find innovative ways to speed up relief.
“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,” he wrote.
The spread of the coronavirus has highlighted the precarious situation of American gig and self-employed workers who are not guaranteed access to traditional unemployment benefits or health coverage.
Several workers in contractor heavy industries have engaged in strikes to demand better protections from their employers.