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US gig workers confused by coronavirus financial relief aid | USA News

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During a normal spring break, aesthetician Rosalia Fiske fills up her calendar with client appointments for facials and waxing. But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already cost her between $4,000 and $5,000, she says, because unlike other gig workers who can take their services virtual, Fiske needs to get her hands on her clients’ faces, and New Jersey’s mandatory stay-at-home order makes that simply impossible right now.

So Fiske is dipping into savings to cover the $4,000 per semester in tuition she pays as a full-time nursing student, plus her share of the $4,000 in rent for the apartment she shares with roommates in Hoboken, New Jersey. And then there’s food, utilities and more.

Fiske, who is pursuing her degree at Hudson County Community College, said she does not think she qualifies for unemployment benefits, and she is not sure she will be eligible for a $1,200 stimulus cheque from the government’s coronavirus relief plan, either.

“I feel like there’s so much unknown when it comes to that check – amongst other relief – to be honest,” Fiske told Al Jazeera. “I have zero income coming in right now, so it’s the responsibility of paying your bills and being frugal.”

Amid record-high unemployment numbers, many gig workers wonder which benefits apply to them. Some 36 percent of Americans participate in the gig economy in some way, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, and the term encompasses ride-share drivers, nannies and carers for the elderly, freelancers, house cleaners, fitness instructors and delivery people, among others.

While those gigs offer flexibility, they have historically come with no safety net, and gig workers have not normally been eligible for unemployment benefits, employer-paid health insurance or paid sick leave. The ongoing coronavirus crisis has also brought many of those long-term struggles to the fore.

Fiske is one of the gig workers Al Jazeera interviewed last month as the coronavirus crisis began in the US. We’ve reached back out to the people we talked to for that story to see how they’re doing now. All three live in the New York City area, which has become the epicentre of the US outbreak.

‘It’s a struggle’

Aaron Robinson is now collecting unemployment after being laid off from the BMW warehouse where he worked full-time on March 22. Robinson’s town of Teaneck, New Jersey, has been hit hard by coronavirus; Bergen County has the highest numbers in the state with nearly 8,000 positive cases and more than 300 deaths.

“Everything is shut down,” Robinson told Al Jazeera. “I can’t work, so I’ve got to collect unemployment like everybody else. It’s a struggle.”

Although he also used to supplement his income by driving 20 to 25 hours a week for Uber, he stopped about a week ago and does not know when he will start again. “I need to find out more specifics of how this virus is transferred,” Robinson said. “I don’t do Uber because of my family. I would still do it, but I don’t want to catch it and spread it to them.”

Robinson said the unemployment benefits he receives are about a third of his BMW wages and are not enough to live on. Like Fiske, he is not sure if he qualifies for the $1,200 stimulus cheque.

Everything is shut down. I can’t work, so I’ve got to collect unemployment like everybody else. It’s a struggle.

Aaron Robinson laid-off BMW warehouse worker and part-time Uber driver

But Robinson said he did call his landlord and electric and water companies to ask for more time to pay his bills, which they granted. “Everybody postponed everything,” Robinson said. “You don’t want to live like this, but you take all the right precautions and you should be able to survive until this blows over.”

His children are home from school and his wife, who is a teacher, is trying to help her students with distance learning from home. Right now, they are focused on staying inside and staying safe. But the uncertainty about how long COVID-19 could last concerns him. “I’m worried because nobody can live on unemployment, so depending on how long it lasts, I don’t know,” he said.

‘No safety provisions’

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Trump on March 27, makes gig workers eligible for 39 weeks of unemployment benefits, an additional $600 a week for up to four months, and the option to apply for loans for relief, says Maria Figueroa, the director of labour and policy research at Cornell University’s Worker Institute. But there are still gaps.

“This is a step forward for protecting the approximately 24 million Americans who are gig workers, but it is not enough as many of them are front-line workers – food delivery, ride-hailing, even healthcare – and they need to continue working during the crisis,” Figueroa told Al Jazeera.

Unemployment insurance benefits in the US also normally require that a recipient prove they have been actively looking for work, she explained, “and it’s not clear how some workers will qualify for unemployment insurance if they can’t seek work during the crisis. It is not clear if this requirement has been dropped to qualify for unemployment insurance.”

Some of the gig workers who are still on the job – including domestic workers, warehouse workers and delivery people – have also sounded the alarm about the lack of health protections they have amid the pandemic, and workers from major companies including Amazon and Instacart went on strike last week.

Amazon.com is now under investigation by New York City’s human rights commissioner after it fired one of the workers who participated in a walkout at its Staten Island warehouse.

“There are no [safety] provisions under the Cares Act, and many workers – gig and regular – are retaliated against by their employers for refusing to work under unsafe conditions,” Figueroa said.

New York City Skyline

Michelle Goitia, a prenatal yoga teacher, birth doula and childbirth educator, has taken her business online, but it’s come with a major pay cut [Courtesy: Michelle Goitia]

‘The buzzword is pivot’

Michelle Goitia, a prenatal yoga teacher, birth doula and childbirth educator, has taken her business online, but it has come with a major pay cut. She’s teaching about half of the courses she once was, and people are paying less for her virtual classes. The nannies that brought babies to her class are not working, and stressed-out, working-from-home parents do not always have time for postnatal yoga.

Still, she is grateful that taking things virtual is even an option. “The buzzword these days seems to be ‘pivot’. What can you do to pivot and adapt to these current times?” Goitia told Al Jazeera. “One of my good friends is a massage therapist, and she has no work, so she’s working on her pivot, and she’s changing her business. But it’s tough. It takes time to change.”

Goitia said she would qualify for the $1,200 cheque from the government, plus $500 for her son. But that one-time payment doesn’t go very far for many workers, says Erin Hatton, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

“We need to extend the benefits by distributing ongoing monthly stimulus payments until this health and economic crisis subsides,” Hatton told Al Jazeera. “More people need to be eligible for such payments, including people whose 2019 income exceeded the limits but have now lost their jobs due to the crisis, as well as young workers who are working to support their families but are categorized as dependents.”

Even amid this time of incredible economic uncertainty, the gig workers we spoke to are finding ways to be grateful.

Goitia has launched a special support group for women who are pregnant and due to deliver during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has had more than 40 couples attend so far.

She prides herself on keeping in touch with the women she meets during prenatal and postpartum periods, carrying around a worn little notebook with their names, babies’ names and information. She’s working to keep those same connections over Zoom. Those women, in turn, have had her back.

“When I first sent out an email saying I had to stop teaching altogether, a couple of people bought some class cards from me and said, ‘We know you’ll be back and we’ll use them then,'” Goitia said.

Fiske is planning to give free facials to nurses at the local hospital after the COVID-19 crisis is over, and it is made her realize “how fortunate I am, and that health is really wealth,” she explained. “This is all temporary and an easy sacrifice.”

Robinson agrees. “I think this is a way for everybody to realize the special things they had with regular life,” he said.



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State Urges Man To Apply For Gig Worker Unemployment After Penalty Weeks Hold Up His Benefits For Months – CBS Chicago

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A possible solution has emerged for an unemployment benefits problem we have been reporting on for months.

A man still serving unemployment penalty weeks said he got a call that could mean he will be getting money from the state soon. The call came days after CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov’s reporting.

Two business days after Ken Scott’s story aired, he heard from an Illinois Department of Employment Security employee telling him to apply not for regular unemployment benefits, but for benefits earmarked for independent contractors and business owners.

But an independent contractor he is not.

“Makes no sense to me,” Scott said. “I just got the call right out of the blue.”

It’s a call that could put thousands of dollars into Scott’s pockets and help him pay his bills. But it has left him confused too – the call was from an IDES employee telling Scott to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, and he would get benefits dating back to March 1.

But Scott is still serving out 24 unemployment penalty weeks for a $143 overpayment two years ago.

So how is that possible?

“He said that the penalties have to keep going, but this is a way to alleviate some of the pressure,” Scott said.

The financial pressure of the result of months of Scott having no income because of those so-called penalty weeks. But PUA benefits are meant for independent contractors and so-called gig workers, of which Ken Scott is neither.

“I did ask him – is this something handed down for people going through this with penalties?” Scott said, “I never got an answer.”

Scott’s call came four days after we first introduced viewers to him and his personal struggle. That same week, state Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Summit) sent Gov. JB Pritzker a letter asking for an immediate revision to the penalty week law during the pandemic to help thousands of people like Scott.

Villanueva said she knows the governor got her letter, but has heard nothing else. And Scott’s potential good news is still peppered with frustration.

“When I tried to put in going back to March 1 like he instructed, it kicked me out,” Scott said.

Scott will now have to deal with the IDES callback system, and some have had to wait weeks or more than a month to get a call back.

 

Kozlov sent IDES spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco two emails Tuesday asking if this change to apply for PUA benefits is just for Scott, or if they are making a change to the penalty week law statewide.

As to Villanueva’s letter to Pritzker, Kozlov reached out to the Governor’s office last week and again on Tuesday to get Pritzker’s reaction to the senator’s letter and ask if he was considering making changes. There had been no response as of early Tuesday evening.

There is a new acting IDES director, and it is possible she is making some changes, But until we get answers from those who are supposed to provide them, we won’t know for sure.

Several other states reportedly have issues with penalty weeks holding up benefits. New York and California have changed their laws, but so far as we know, Illinois won’t budge.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We’ll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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Can Patreon and Twitch Drive the New Gig Economy? – OZY

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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

The pandemic is giving rise to a freelance model driven by platforms geared toward remote working and for a generation that’s digital first.

  • Amid the unemployment crisis, platforms that enable self-employed workers to charge subscriptions for their content are having a surge in sign-ups.
  • From journalists to bookkeepers, IT engineers to porn actors, these platforms could be the future of the gig economy.

In an episode of the Netflix original series Love, Bertie Bauer, played by Claudia O’Doherty signs up for Tinder after a rocky breakup. She asks her roommate Mickey Dobbs (Gillian Jacobs): “What does it mean when someone says they’re a project manager?” Mickey responds: “They’re unemployed.”

While pop culture has often equated self-employment with unemployment, freelance work is a reality for a growing number of Americans. A 2017 survey by Edelman Intelligence concluded that a majority of Americans — especially those living in urban areas — would be freelancers by 2027. Now the coronavirus pandemic is giving rise to a freelance model driven by a set of platforms geared for remote working and for a generation that’s digital first.

Patreon is a subscription-based platform popular among creators, from musicians to printmakers, who want to sell and distribute their work. In just the first three weeks of the pandemic, as job losses battered America’s workforce, it added 30,000 sign-ups.

Substack, a platform that allows writers to build and distribute customized subscription-based newsletters, saw a 49 percent increase in sign-ups in March, as newsrooms across the country laid off journalists. Well-known writers, including former The New Republic climate science writer Emily Atkin, ThinkProgress founder Judd Legum and Matt Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone contributor, have turned to the platform. Some writers on Substack make six figures — the average salary for a staff reporter in the U.S. is $46,270, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If the pandemic continues there is a high probability that more and more people will use these platforms in full-time capacities.

Chris Stanton, Harvard Business School

Upwork, which connects employers with gig workers for tasks ranging from a six-month UX design project to a weeklong bookkeeping stint, boasted a 19 percent growth in revenue in the second quarter and 21 percent in the first quarter. 

“Freelancing takes a lot of hustle. There is a freedom that comes with it as well,” says Carol Wolper, author of Adapt or Wait Tables: A Freelancer’s Guide. “People must adapt to this moment.… In the freelance world, to be successful you’ve always had to bring something to the table that no one else can.”

The reality of course is far from idyllic, especially for the millions of workers who don’t have a choice but to seek freelance work. In the past six months, companies ranging from Uber to NBCUniversal to Boeing have laid off employees, as industry after industry has been decimated. The United States is in the middle of its largest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Week-over-week, unemployment numbers continue to rise as furloughs turn into layoffs and then the cycle repeats itself. “The idea that there will be a V-shaped recovery is looking less and less plausible,” says Chris Stanton, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Until now, the platforms seeing monumental growth in sign-ups for self-employed gigs have often been used for supplemental income, he explains. The current crisis could change that. “If the pandemic continues there is a high probability that more and more people will use these platforms in full-time capacities,” Stanton says. 

That’s why platforms like Twitch are also on the rise. The world’s largest livestreaming platform has historically been home to gamers. That has expanded across several industries, with everything from yoga classes to cooking shows filmed at temporarily shuttered restaurants. Sponsored content on Twitch grew 89 percent in the first two months of the pandemic.

Twitch has partnered with Bandsintown, a platform that connects musicians, fans and brands, to help elevate emerging artists at a time when performances in bars and clubs are not an option. OnlyFans, a London-based content subscription platform used principally for pornographic content, has seen a 75 percent month-over-month increase in users since the start of the pandemic, offering a lifeline to an industry brought to a halt because of social distancing norms.

In some ways, this explosion of growth is in keeping with a shift toward freelancing that’s been evident for a few years, says Trevor Blake, author of Secrets to a Successful Startup: A Recession-Proof Guide to Starting, Surviving & Thriving in Your Own Venture. “But the pandemic [has] clearly accelerated the process.” He expects to see more independent contractors performing roles ranging from HR to IT for businesses. How all of this shapes the future of the American workforce remains an open question. But as the economy shifts toward freelance work driven by these 21st-century platforms, the stigmatization of self-employed workers could soon be a thing of the past.



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Gig Based Business Market Overview Along With Company Profiles Product Data- TaskRabbit Guru Rover HopSkipDrive Freelancer Fiverr Favor Delivery Upwork DoorDash BellHops Turo,,,,, etc

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