Freelancers must be included in COVID-19 aid

Mar 18, 2020

Today, I sent a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and New York State and City elected officials to outline the stakes for freelancers in this unprecedented moment in our history.

In the conversations around government economic support at the federal, state, and local levels across the United States, freelancers are being ignored. But we know that independent workers are under the greatest threat right now; at the best of times, freelancers operate without traditional employee protections like health benefits and unemployment insurance.

They do so because they believe their independence is worth the risk, but no person should be asked to weather a global event such as the COVID-19 pandemic alone. Any and all financial safety nets that are implemented in this moment of economic crisis must include freelancers.

Briefly, my letter lays out a four-point plan to support independent workers:

  1. Establish a temporary emergency measure to provide zero-interest loans to New York’s small businesses, including freelancers.
  2. Ensure that freelancers have access to all emergency paid sick leave plans and family medical leave plans, regardless of their employment status.
  3. Establish disaster unemployment assistance programs that include all working freelancers and self-employed workers who have lost income due to the impacts of COVID-19.
  4. Institute tax breaks and deferments of tax payments for self-employed individuals.

More than one-third of the American workforce works independently — more than 50 million people — and they contribute an estimated $1 trillion to the country's GDP. Our numbers are growing, and government must recognize freelancers as members of this country's thriving small business community.

To read the full text of my letter, click here. While it is addressed to New York lawmakers, its content is applicable in every city across the country, and we are in contact with a number of local officials in other states.

To get involved in the fight for freelancers' rights, contact your local representative and share these demands. Here is a sample script for you to use:

Dear [name],
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the health and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and freelancers face a disproportionate risk of financial hardship. Yet, we have not heard a clear plan from lawmakers on a relief plan for this vital workforce.
Unlike traditional employees, freelancers are excluded from receiving paid leave and unemployment insurance, and shoulder the cost of their own health and disability insurance. Without a concerted effort to extend relief to these workers, the economic impact of COVID-19 on independent workers will be nothing less than devastating.
As a member of the Freelancers Union, I demand that you implement measures to include independent workers in all paid sick leave, family leave, and emergency unemployment packages that are passed to relieve economic hardship during this crisis.


I will continue to keep you updated on our work on your behalf. There is strength in numbers, and we will get through this together.

Rafael Espinal

Rafael Espinal is the president and executive director of Freelancers Union.