WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced legislation to test innovative portable benefit designs for the growing independent workforce. The Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act seeks to provide these workers with access to social insurance protections typically provided through traditional full-time employment. This legislation would establish a $20 million grant fund within the U.S. Department of Labor to incentivize states, localities and nonprofit organizations to experiment with portable benefits models for the independent workforce.
“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,” Sen. Warner said. “This program will encourage experimentation at the state and local levels to find ways we can better support our independent, 21st century workforce.”
“Job opportunities in the gig economy provide workers with utmost flexibility, which is increasingly needed as parents continue to adjust schedules due to the pandemic,” Sen. Young said. “Supporting portable benefit options helps uncover creative solutions to addressing the needs of our drastically changing workforce. I am pleased to reintroduce this bill to make it easier for Hoosiers find the job opportunity that best suits their family situation.”
“The way we work is rapidly changing but our laws aren’t keeping up. We need to ensure we have an economy that works for everyone and that includes making sure that gig economy workers can access the same types of benefits as traditional jobs,” Rep. DelBene said. “This legislation would take an important step forward on expanding the portability of benefits. Whether you make a living through mobile car services or by selling crafts online, workers deserve access to benefits.”
The legislation is also co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and John Hoeven (R-ND).
While the composition of the workforce has changed, those who earn all or some of their income as independent contractors, part-time workers, temporary workers or contingent workers find it difficult and expensive to access benefits and protections that are commonly provided to full-time employees, such as paid leave, workers’ compensation, skills training, unemployment insurance, tax withholding and tax-advantaged retirement savings. As the workforce changes, employers and policymakers need to consider a system of portable benefits that allow workers to carry these benefits with them from job to job across a lifetime in the workforce.
The Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act would establish a portable benefits pilot program at the U.S. Department of Labor. It authorizes a total of $20 million for competitive grants to states, local governments and nonprofits for pilot projects to design, implement and evaluate new models ($15 million) or assess and improve existing models ($5 million) for portable benefits for independent workers such as contractors, temporary workers and self-employed workers.
Eligible models should provide any number of work-related benefits and protections – such as retirement savings, workers compensation, life or disability insurance, sick leave, training and educational benefits, health care, and more. In order to encourage innovative thinking on these challenging issues, programs focused solely on retirement-related benefits will not be eligible. In awarding grants, the Secretary of Labor is directed to prioritize models that can be replicated on a large scale or at the national level.
Sen. Warner and Rep. DelBene originally introduced this legislation in 2017.
Sen. Warner has been a leader in Congress in pushing for policy solutions to address the country’s ever-changing workforce. Earlier this month, He called on the SEC to require companies to report on how many workers they employ who are not classified as full-time employees, including independent and subcontracted workers. Sen. Warner has also successfully pushed the Labor Department to update its annual workforce surveys to collect better data on the independent workforce, and he also convinced the Internal Revenue Service to update its tax-filing and record-keeping guidance for independent workers. Since 2015, Sen. Warner has co-chaired The Aspen Institute’s bipartisan Future of Work Initiative.
Before joining Congress, Rep. DelBene had a long career in the technology industry and as an entrepreneur. She is viewed as a forward-looking lawmaker trying to update laws for the way the world works today.
A copy of the bill text is available here.