Gig Workers Would Get Lift From $2 Trillion Senate Aid Bill

The U.S. Senate's economic rescue package would enable Uber, Lyft and many other gig workers and freelancers to get unemployment checks.
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Millions of Uber, Lyft and other gig workers would be eligible to draw unemployment checks for the first time under the $2 trillion economic rescue package passed by the U.S. Senate this week.

The bill, which is expected to go before the House for a vote soon, would establish a "pandemic unemployment assistance" program to provide jobless payments to independent contractors, the self-employed and others not typically covered under traditional unemployment insurance programs, according to a summary released by the Senate.

A temporary measure, the program would sunset on Dec. 31.

The Senate bill also tops off unemployment checks, which are capped by states at amounts that can be lower than what individuals had earned on the job, with an additional $600 a week for four months.

The decision to enable gig workers to qualify for unemployment checks comes as Uber and Lyft drivers, as well as many other freelancers in various fields, find themselves without work amid the coronavirus-driven economic shutdown.

And it follows an impassioned plea by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to President Donald Trump and Congress to provide a lifeline for Uber and other gig workers sidelined by the crisis.

"The uncertainty caused by Covid-19 ... has already caused deep concern and hardship for many of the 1.3 million Americans working on Uber's platform," Khosrowshahi wrote. "Drivers and delivery people are on the front lines of keeping our communities running."

Still, like all legislation, the Senate bill is complicated, with a myriad of caveats and provisions. And while the new pandemic unemployment assistance program clearly covers gig workers whose jobs require physical labor of one sort or another, it appears to exclude freelancers who do "telework."