COVID-19

Gig workers worry about losing federal jobless benefits

Mitchell Hartman Jul 23, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Gig workers have received unemployment benefits many would not have been entitled to before pandemic assistance began. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Gig workers worry about losing federal jobless benefits

Mitchell Hartman Jul 23, 2020
Gig workers have received unemployment benefits many would not have been entitled to before pandemic assistance began. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Jennifer Jessie has a one-woman SAT and ACT tutoring business in Woodbridge, Virginia. Heading into the spring, she had lots of work lined up. Then COVID-19 hit in mid-March, and the cancellations started.

“So when people would contact me, I would say, ‘I don’t think there’s going to be an SAT or ACT, and with money being so tight I would hate for you to waste your money,’ ” she said.

Her income’s down from $1,000 per week to less than $200. As a solo business owner, she wasn’t sure where to turn.

“It’s never really clear what I’m able to apply for. So I started with [Paycheck Protection Program] loans,” she said.

She didn’t get one, but she did get on unemployment — through the federal program that opens up benefits to independent contractors and gig workers.

She’s received about $2,000. That kind of money is a godsend in this pandemic-shocked economy, said Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute, calling it “absolutely essential.”

About 10 million or more people who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify for state benefits are getting them now. The federal government’s picking up the tab and adding $600 a week. But that’s about to run out.

“We are talking about a pretty mammoth drop in the income if the $600 is allowed to expire,” Shierholz said.

Take the example of Zac Crofford, a theatrical technical director in Austin, Texas. He’s been able to make it through so far on unemployment. But when the extra $600 from the feds disappears?

“I don’t know. That’ll leave me at $400 a month with Texas’ unemployment benefits, which is impossible to live on,” he said.

Crofford said he won’t have enough to cover basic expenses or keep up his studio and equipment until theaters open again.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The latest: President Donald Trump signed an executive action directing $400 extra a week in unemployment benefits. But will that aid actually reach people? It’s still unclear. Trump directed federal agencies to send $300 dollars in weekly aid, taken from the federal disaster relief fund, and called on states to provide an additional $100. But states’ budgets are stretched thin as it is.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.