On Saturday, Feb. 6, Freelancers Union President Rafael Espinal hosted a live conversation for Union members on the issues at stake for freelancers today. It’s been a long, hard road since COVID-19 shutdowns began in March of last year, and we’ve fought hard for freelancers who have been suffering, and continue to struggle, since then. With the installation of the Biden administration and the potential for an end to the pandemic on the horizon, we wanted to take this moment to check in with members and some key allies to share our priorities for the future.
Joining the conversation were Freelancers Union Founder Sara Horowitz and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Sara shared her motivation for starting Freelancers Union some 26 years ago, and talked about the need for mutual support groups like unions (like ours!), cooperatives, and neighborhood organizations to establish a lasting safety net that doesn’t rely on direct government assistance. Her new book, Mutualism: Building the Next Economy From the Ground Up, is available for pre-order now.
Sen. Schumer then joined to share an update on the federal relief programs that he has worked to pass, including Save Our Stages funding for independent performance venues and agents, rent and mortgage assistance funding. Schumer has been a vocal advocate for independent workers and freelancers throughout the pandemic, and was instrumental in the CARES Act’s creation of a PUA benefit system and for freelancers’ continued inclusion in programs like FPUC and mixed earner payments. They’ve increased the number of weeks a worker can receive PUA benefits from 36 weeks to 50. And Sen. Schumer mentioned that one of his goals for the future is to make a PUA-type program permanent beyond the pandemic, ensuring that an unemployment safety net exists for freelancers and independent workers who are unable to find work for any reason.
Based on the many conversations that we have had with members over the past months, these are our immediate priorities for the next actions from the federal government:
- Sweeping student debt relief. Sen. Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have co-sponsored a resolution urging the president to use an executive order to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt. This is an action that can be taken without a Congressional vote, and should be done immediately before the current payment moratorium ends. Reach out to your senators to ask them to support the resolution, and to the White House itself to support the Schumer/Warren bill to urge President Biden to take this action immediately.
- Retroactive payments for mixed W-2/1099 earners. The latest COVID relief package, passed at the end of December, included a $100/week payment for freelancers whose income is not being fully accounted for under the current UI/PUA division. This payment only began to be implemented in January 2021, while we know that many people with this status have been receiving undercalculated benefits since last year. We are asking for payments to be made to these workers retroactively to make up for the months they have been struggling.
- Returning the FPUC payment to $600/week. After the initial CARES Act program that supplemented UI and PUA earnings by an additional $600/week expired in July, unemployed freelancers subsisted for months on their meager PUA benefits while Congress refused to move new relief forward. Finally, in December, the FPUC payment was reinstated, but at half its original amount. Because of the long gap in payments, and the reality that UI and PUA benefits can amount to less than $100/week for some freelancers, we are asking for the FPUC benefit to return to its original amount, when it created a level of stability for millions of unemployed workers.
- Increased health insurance subsidies. The cost of health insurance on the individual marketplace is just too high, reaching upwards of $1,500/month for families. While the federal government provides a level of tax subsidy for those whose income is below 400% of the federal poverty line, many working freelancers are still unable to afford coverage that meets their needs. We are asking that the government step in to limit the cost of insurance premiums, either by higher subsidies or direct regulation, so that freelancers don’t have to choose between their health and their rent.
We are working toward these goals, but we are only as strong as our members! It’s your voice that helps us advocate for all freelancers, so get loud, reach out to your reps, and let them know that you are a member of the Freelancers Union community. Full video of the event is available on our YouTube channel.