The (potential) good news keeps on cruising in, freelancers: In addition to NYC implementing legislation that’ll help you not get stiffed, two Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill late last week that would set aside $20 million for a grant program that would allow nonprofits and local governments to set up “portable benefits” for the independent workforce, giving them access to support programs that will follow you from contract gig to contract gig. Which means if you’re a writer, artist, indie entrepreneur, ride-sharing driver, Etsy seller, etc., piecing together any number of jobs and eking it out without the support of traditional workplace benefits, this could be huge.
Over the next four years, the number of independent workers is expected to double in, reaching 9.2 million people. And while the gig economy and freelancing has spelt freedom for many, its accompanying drawbacks are plenty: health insurance can be hard to come by, you don’t get paid sick days or vacation days, if you get injured on the job you’re SOL, you don’t pay into social security and thus won’t get to draw on it when the time comes, and if you get laid off, there’s no unemployment insurance to tide you over ‘til your next gig. The reality of a freelancer’s situation should anything ever go wrong (or, y’know, if they ever get older and want to retire) is pretty bleak as it stands.
The authors of the bill, Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia and Representative Suzan DelBene of Washington, put it this way:
“While the composition of the workforce has changed, those who earn all or some of their income as independent contractors, part-time workers, temporary workers or contingent workers find it difficult and expensive 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. As the workforce changes, employers and policymakers need to consider a system of portable benefits that allow workers to carry these benefits with them from job to job across a lifetime in the workforce.”
The bill has gotten support from Postmates CEO and co-founder Bastian Lehmann and Lyft Vice President of Government Relations Joe Okpaku, which shows promise (and if we’re lucky, lobbying dollars, but lest we get too hopeful, their support raises the question of why they can’t seem to figure out a better setup for their own gig economy workers).
The bill still has a ways to go (and tbqh, Congress has a lot on their plate these days). But it’s heartening to see legislators taking this issue seriously, because freelance hustlers deserve a safety net, too. Find out who your senators are here to give them a call and voice your support, or send them a fax using Resistbot.