With more than a third of the U.S. workforce said to be currently engaged in temporary, contract or on-demand work, a bipartisan group of senators has reintroduced legislation to test “innovative portable benefit designs” to help level the playing field for these workers who lack access to benefits.
U.S. Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Todd Young (R-IN) reintroduced the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act (S. 1696), which seeks to provide gig workers with access to certain retirement plans and health insurance protections typically offered to full-time employees.
The legislation 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 or assess and improve existing models 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 awarding the grants, the Secretary of Labor would be directed to prioritize models that can be replicated on a large scale or at the national level. In addition, the legislation instructs that the programs must go beyond focusing solely on retirement-related benefits.
“Independent workers make up a growing percentage of our workforce, yet they are often not eligible for many benefits typically offered by employers,” Sen. Cramer said in a statement. “North Dakotans in non-traditional work arrangements deserve access to the same benefits as the rest of the working public. These pilot programs encourage state and local governments to provide portable benefits and give independent contractors additional financial stability.”
“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,” Sen. Warner stated. “This program will encourage experimentation at the state and local levels to support the realities of a 21st century workforce.”
Added Sen. Young: “Job opportunities in the gig economy provide workers with utmost flexibility. 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.”
Joining Sens. Cramer, Warner and Young as cosponsors of the bill are Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and John Hoeven (R-ND).
The bill was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.