New York Gig Workers Face Tumultuous Race Between Unemployment Benefits And May Rent

The race is on: gig workers are anxiously awaiting benefits from the government as May rent is just hours from coming due.

And despite the fact that New York State has said it is working its way through the voluminous outstanding unemployment claims, many gig workers are still waiting behind those who are claiming regular unemployment, to receive benefits. 

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act includes unemployment for both regular workers and gig workers. New York has already paid out more than $3.1 billion in unemployment to more than 1.4 million people in the last 6 weeks alone. 

New York still has about 400,000 unemployment claims pending, according to Bloomberg. It is difficult to make progress on the backlog as new claims continue to come in. "An additional 207,172 unemployment claims were filed the week ending April 18, up 1,591% from the year prior," Bloomberg noted.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said on Tuesday:  “The majority of those are the pandemic unemployment insurance. The problem is that as we get the backlog down in the previous weeks, that continues to build. We’re still getting claims in real time.”

The backlog is partially due to the timing of the law that took effect on March 27. DeRosa commented: “The feds then put guidance out that said you have to apply for unemployment insurance, get rejected and then apply for pandemic unemployment insurance, which was a complete disaster.”

As government was running the unemployed through bureaucratic red tape, it also decided to shoot itself in the foot when the "labor department staff accidentally mailed out some personal information, including Social Security numbers, to the wrong applicants" due to a human error.

Your tax dollars at work. And hey, don't worry, the state is providing "free credit monitoring" to make up for it. 

Meanwhile, the people who have been filing for unemployment, like Elise Milner, an independent off-Broadway director and playwright, don't know how long they'll have to wait and have bills coming due in hours.

“Online I’m being told that I’d probably have to wait six weeks, but I know a lot of people who put their claim in before mine and they’re still waiting,” Milner commented. 

She tried to submit her application on April 1 but couldn't finish the online application and was "booted" off of the site. She then tried to call the state's unemployment office. “I tried calling 22 times the first time and I got a busy signal,” Milner said.

When she finally was able to submit her online application, the phone interview that was required happened unexpectedly at 7AM on Easter Morning. Milner was asleep, with her phone on silent. When she got a second call, days later, the person couldn't tell her when her benefits would be paid. 

New York rideshare driver Syed Husnain Zaidi said he submitted a claim on March 20 and still doesn't have benefits. The agency called him on April 13 and told him he was "all set".

Since then, he has gotten no word. "It's very frustrating," he said.