Last week, Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) and Representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA) re-introduced the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act, which according to a press release “seeks to provide these workers with access to social insurance protections typically provided through traditional full-time employment.”
The proposed legislation– first introduced in 2017– would establish a $20 million grant fund at the U.S. Department of Labor to “incentivize states, localities and nonprofit organizations to experiment with portable benefits models for the independent workforce.” The “eligible workers” considered in the language of the bill includes “any worker who is not a traditional full-time employee of the entity hiring the worker for the eligible work, including any independent contractor, contract worker, self-employed individual, freelance worker, temporary worker, or contingent worker.”
“More Americans than ever are engaging in part-time, contract or other alternative work arrangements. As the workforce changes, it is increasingly important that we provide workers with an ability to access more flexible benefits that can be carried to multiple jobs across a day, a year, and even a career,” Senator Warner said in a press release. “This program will encourage experimentation at the state and local levels to find ways we can better support our independent, 21st century workforce.”
Co-sponsors in the Senate include Senators Angus King (I-ME), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and John Hoeven (R-ND).01F118D680066366C3EACC8145301957.final-portable-benes
In a report on the reintroduction of the bill, Endgadget’s Amrita Khaled notes that “the idea that benefits like health insurance and paid vacation should be universal, rather than tied to your job, has gained steam in recent years. Such social insurance programs, normally backed by Democrats, have sparked interest from some Republicans by the rapidly changing workforce and economic climate following the pandemic.”
The proposal comes as multiple governments around the world are considering how to set new criteria for workers to prevent exploitation by platform companies such as Uber and Amazon. Late last year, the European Commission issued a set of proposals to improve benefits to “people working through digital labor platforms,” while Belgium, an EU member country, recently struck its own deal establishing the criteria for gig worker job status. In the UK, Damian Collins, a conservative Member of the Parliament, recently argued that Britons “urgently need legislation to create a level playing field for all, providing certainty for platforms and workers alike.”
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.