WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) joined by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) today introduced legislation to test innovative portable benefits designs for the growing independent workforce. The Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act seeks to provide workers with access to 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.
“Each year more and more Americans engage in part-time, contract or other alternative work arrangements to support themselves and their families. But despite these shifts, our retirement and savings programs aren’t keeping up to help these workers,” said Sen. Warner. “This program will encourage experimentation at the state and local levels to support the realities of a 21st century workforce.”
“Job opportunities in the gig economy provide workers with utmost flexibility,” said Sen. Young. “Supporting portable benefit options helps uncover creative solutions to addressing the needs of our rapidly 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 evolving, and it is time our laws caught up. Today, millions of workers lack access to benefits like workers’ compensation and paid time off. We must act to ensure our economy works for everyone,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene. “This legislation is an important step toward ensuring benefits are accessible to all workers, regardless of their work arrangement. Whether you are a rideshare driver or an online artisan, you should have the same benefits opportunities as other workers.”
The legislation is co-sponsored in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and John Hoeven (R-ND).
“Independent workers make up a growing percentage of our workforce, yet they are often not eligible for many benefits typically offered by employers. North Dakotans in non-traditional work arrangements deserve access to the same benefits as the rest of the working public,” said Sen. Cramer. “These pilot programs encourage state and local governments to provide portable benefits and give independent contractors additional financial stability.”
“Information technology, analytics and the ‘gig’ economy are changing the complexion of the 21st century economy, so it’s vital that our federal policies evolve to stay in step with the reality faced by everyday workers,” said Sen. King. “Today, more and more Americans work as independent contractors, or are more regularly switching jobs to address new opportunities in the workforce – and they should have flexible benefit options for them and their families. This bipartisan bill would lay the groundwork for more portable benefits so we can effectively support independent workers as they help change and expand the modern economy.”
“As we experience a workforce shortage across the nation, offering more flexible benefits and support will help make it easier for workers across the country and in North Dakota to find the right job opportunity for them and their families,” said Sen. Hoeven.
In the past decade, the composition of the U.S. workforce has changed significantly, and those who earn all or some of their income as independent contractors, part-time workers, temporary workers or contingent workers have found it difficult and expensive to access benefits and protections that are commonly provided to full-time employees. These benefits include 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 that allows 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 will provide a 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, and have continued to lead the push for policy solutions to address shifts across our economy that have changed the workforce. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Warner doubled down on efforts to include expanded benefits eligibility in relief packages.
“Grantmakers in the Arts sees firsthand the negative impact on independent workers that their lack of access to workplace benefits has on their health, their stability, their families,” said Eddie Torres, President and CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts. “We see these negative impacts because so many artists are independent workers. Health insurance, disability insurance, retirement savings, and other benefits provide essential protections for traditional workers that independent workers simply do without. With the number of independent workers growing, the introduction of the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act comes at a crucial time. The bill will begin to lay the policy foundation to make workplace benefits available to independent workers, including artists. Grantmakers in the Arts strongly supports this legislation, and stands ready to work with Senators Warner and Young and Representative DelBene to have it signed into law this Congress.”
“The Association of Language Companies applauds Senator Warner and his colleagues for introducing the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act,” said Susan Amarino, President, Association of Language Companies. “The language industry works in every industry in the US. We support national security, economic growth, and the provision of vital language access to health care, education, and social services. The translators, interpreters, captioners, and other skilled language professionals deserve the ability to choose independent contractor status and receive the benefits necessary to take care of their families and plan for their futures. The pilot program for portable benefits would go a long way toward supporting the 21st-century knowledge-based workforce.”
A copy of the bill text is available here.