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13 Mar 2020

Kaelyn Forde, Al Jazeera

USA: COVID-19 outbreak exposes lack of safety net for gig workers, as lawmakers & gig companies look for solutions

“Coronavirus highlights lack of safety net for gig workers”, 13 March 2020

Ride-share drivers, nannies and carers for the elderly, freelancers, house cleaners, fitness instructors and delivery people are among those who could feel the pinch [due to the coronavirus]. [36] percent of Americans participate in the gig economy in some way…and while [it] offers flexibility, they…have virtually no safety net. [L]awmakers…have called for…enhanced paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, food assistance and affordable coronavirus testing and treatment. Uber and Lyft, as well as…DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart, are…discussing ways of setting up a fund to help drivers affected by the coronavirus.

Out-of-pocket medical costs can become an enormous burden for independent contractors as well,…the average three-day hospital stay in the US cost[ing] about $30,000. President Donald Trump announced his plan to defer payments on federal loans to small businesses,…defer taxes for businesses [and]…relief for hourly workers. [P]eople vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus - such as the elderly…are often the ones responsible for caring for them and delivering food and medicine to their homes.

It is the uncertainty of how much the virus will spread - and how much it will disrupt daily life - that has made many gig workers worry. A recent study by the Federal Reserve found that nearly 40 percent of US households would struggle with an unexpected $400 expense, let alone go weeks or months without income. "It might change people's minds about the need for healthcare access for gig-workers, as it's now a public safety issue, not purely social justice”.