Laid-Off Workers Still Waiting For New Unemployment Benefits

Arthur Delaney

Millions of unemployed Americans are still waiting on the beefed-up unemployment benefits Congress promised as part of the $2.1 trillion stimulus package ― and it’s still unclear who will qualify.

The new provisions are supposed to give jobless workers an extra $600 per week on top of what they would normally receive, but not before state workforce agencies can work through a cumbersome implementation process. 

The bill also expanded coverage to include categories of workers who aren’t traditionally eligible for unemployment, such as “gig” workers who drive for Uber.

Members of Congress specifically said such workers should benefit, but the new guidance issued by the U.S. Labor Department over the weekend could exclude some ride-hailing app drivers, said Andrew Stettner, an unemployment policy expert and senior fellow at The Century Foundation. 

Stettner said “the rules released Sunday night are criminally narrow and will greatly undermine the effectiveness of the system.” 

Other policy experts said the guidance was simply confusing, and it’s just not clear if gig workers would be disqualified. Michele Evermore, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, said “it’s probably overall a good thing they got this out the door so states can start ramping up, but a little bit more clarity would be good.”

The Labor Department’s guidance specifically says a ride-hailing app driver is eligible “if he or she has been forced to suspend operations as a direct result of the COVID19 public health emergency, such as if an emergency state or municipal order restricting movement makes continued operations unsustainable.”

But what exactly does that mean? An overstrict interpretation would effectively leave out many drivers for ride-hailing apps. Among those is Sabrina Hogan, an Uber driver in Austell, Georgia, who stopped driving in February because she didn’t want to expose herself and her husband to the virus. She didn’t...

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